More WVC cops hired in Justice Dept. brokered deal

Posted at 3:28 PM, Jun 23, 2014

WEST VALLEY CITY -- Ten officers stood and raised their right hands, pledging to serve and protect.

The group is the latest to be hired to patrol the streets of West Valley City.

"It's going to allow us to change the game," police chief Lee Russo told them. "It's going to allow us to get ahead of problems, to address the problems proactively."

The police department has been severely understaffed for months -- 25 officers short in the last nine months alone. Add retirements and other issues, it compounded the other public problems facing the police force.

The hiring spree beganafter an agreement was reached between Latino community leaders and the city, with mediation from the U.S. Justice Department.When more than 100 drug cases were dismissed, Latino activists noted the majority of the names were Hispanic -- and claimed racial profiling.

The police department pledged more openness, accessibility and cultural sensitivity.

The city also agreed to hire more officers.

"Certainly, we've had a number of challenges, not just with the staffing levels," said Russo. "Public challenges... about some things that have gone on. Now, we are moving away from that storm."

Latino community leaders who were originally critical of the West Valley City Police Department are now praising them.

"It's commendable what they're doing so far," said Tony Yapias, the head of Proyecto Latino. "With all the things that have happened, with all the attention in the last couple of years with all the problems there, they finally realized they have to have a good department in order to provide the best public safety for their community."

Russo anticipates to be fully staffed by the end of August. Many officers within the department said the new hires will do more for employee morale. Some of the officers have been lured from neighboring departments now that the city has raised wages. The police force has also been aggressively recruiting.

It was Russo's vision for the police force that lured Bruce Armstrong. He said the department is working to move beyond the problems of the past.

"The minute we put this uniform on this morning, that baggage is on us. It's something we've got to face and you've got to move forward and give the best service you can in the community," he said. "People call us when there's a problem, and you've got to know that. You've got to go in with the right attitude and to be humble and to help people."