West Valley City PD holds community meeting

Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 23, 2014

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah --Five months after taking over as West Valley's top cop, Chief Lee Russo hosted his first community meeting, revealing problems in the department and solutions after years of scandal.

About 50 people listened inside the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, some expressing a desire for more accountability as the chief acknowledged the department has a problem with its public image, and Russo believes his ideas can help fix that.

In a power-point presentation, the chief identified three major concerns he's discovered since taking over: a lack of leadership at the top, the need for more accountability, plus better communication within the department.

Some of the problems were discovered recently when Russo audited the sex crimes unit and discovered victims waiting for their investigations to move forward while their cases just sat on detectives’ desks.  That prompted an audit of all 2013 criminal cases.

“The broader audit for the department, we have moved through that and one of the things we have found is that there's a lag when reporting happens in the field and the mechanics of getting it into our records system, those are processes we're working on,” Russo said.

The audits follow years of scandal, including the disbanding of West Valley PD’s neighborhood narcotics unit, which resulted in the dismissal of roughly 120 state and federal cases.  Cops who were a part of the NNU were also involved in the unjustified shooting of Danielle Willard.  That resulted in the firing of Detective Shaun Cowley.  Meanwhile, his partner, Kevin Salmon, remains on paid leave while Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determines if he'll file criminal charges against the two.

Chief Russo said, despite so much controversy, the West Valley Police Department isn't broken beyond repair.  He's promising more outside training for supervisors, new technology for better records keeping, and, when the crowd asked whether he'd give his cops body cameras for more accountability, he said he's open to that.

"I think it's gonna be hard because there's a lot of things that need to be fixed and you can't fix them all at once, and it's not gonna be soon, I don't think, but it's a start," West Valley City resident Marti Whiteman said.

"People want to know they're talking to the decision maker,” added Russo.  “People feel comfortable and confident when they can say to a police chief, ‘Hey, here's what my problems are’ and from my perspective, I'm taking note of that and take accountability for that so we can get it addressed."

Russo said the criminal case audit hasn’t revealed major red flags, but rather a records keeping problem.  However, he is still waiting on results from 10 cases in the sex crimes unit audit, and those will be released Thursday, January 30.

Chief Russo intends to continue the community meetings once a month, and he’ll alternate them the east and west side of town so there’s less travel and more input for the public.