WVC police, Latino groups reach agreement to improve relations

Posted at 9:17 PM, Jul 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-23 23:17:32-04

WEST VALLEY CITY -- The West Valley City Police Department and Latino community leaders have reached an agreement to improve relations after questions of racial profiling in dozens of dismissed drug cases.

The plan, believed to be a first-of-its-kind in Utah, came about as a result of mediation involving the U.S. Justice Department. Latino community leaders questioned why so many names in more than 100 dismissed drug cases involving the West Valley City Police Department's embattled neighborhood narcotics unit were of Hispanic origin.

The Salt Lake District Attorney has dismissed dozens of cases because of alleged evidence mishandling. The FBI is conducting an investigation into the neighborhood narcotics unit, which is expected to wrap up soon, acting West Valley City Police Chief Anita Schwemmer told FOX 13 News.

The pact between West Valley City and the Latino community leaders includes:

  • Cultural competency training for all city staff;
  • A review of police policies;
  • Town meetings to improve relations between the police department and the Latino community;
  • The police department will return to full staffing, including community liaison officers;
  • The police chief will personally handle complaints involving supervisory officers;
  • Citizen complaint forms will be made available in Spanish, Vietnamese and other languages;
  • Police department data on race and ethnic demographic staffing, and a breakdown of the drug cases by demographics will be provided to Latino groups;
  • Proyecto Latino will hold a "Know Your Rights" forum to help community members understand law enforcement procedures and build community trust;
  • The Utah Coalition of La Raza will dialogue with West Valley City police on other ways to improve relations.

"In terms of what we're dealing with today, I think most of the police officers in West Valley are good people," said Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino. "They're doing their job like everybody else, and we hope that they can, as they work with the Latino community, they will be able to rebuild that trust with them."

Schwemmer said the dialogue between the two sides has been "a positive thing."

"I know it has been for me personally, and I think it will be for the department as a whole," she told FOX 13 on Tuesday. "It helps build that trust that the community members should be able to have in their police department."