Legislature to explore task force on police shootings, body cams

Posted at 1:59 PM, Jan 20, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- A legislative committee has voted to explore creating a task force to look at police training, investigative policies, body cameras and psychological testing for cadets after a slate of officer-involved shootings in Utah.

The idea to create a task force came Tuesday after a lengthy hearing where police chiefs, sheriffs, criminal defense attorneys and the Utah Attorney General's Office testified.

"This issue needs to be looked at for everyone's well being," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.

Reacting to the seemingly high number of officer-involved shootings, lawmakers held the inquiry to look at police policies, training and whether there is any uniformity to them. The Utah Attorney General's Office said in an analysis paper while most policies are uniform, training varies "dramatically" from police department to police department.

"Two factors consistently are cited by the authorities in reducing the (use of) force by police, and that is better training and greater accountability," said Spence Austin, the criminal division chief for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

Read the Utah Attorney General's analysis on use of deadly force here:

"In this state, every day, by and large, our officers do a good job," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank testified.

Burbank said officers should be held to a higher standard, "but it cannot be an impossible standard." In his testimony, the police chief voiced support for body cameras and outside panels to review use of force issues and complaints about officer conduct.

"I'm an advocate for a civilian review board," he told lawmakers.

Lawmakers questioned if enough training was given to police cadets on deescalating conflicts. Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training Executive Director Scott Stephenson said cadets receive training on conflict resolution, crisis intervention, drug recognition and ways to avoid using deadly force.

But the amount of training depends on how much funding they get, Stephenson told the legislative panel.

Sen. Madsen asked if police cadets got psychological screenings to determine if they are fit to be police officers. Some agencies do, some don't, Stephenson said.

"You've said the key word and that's money," Stephenson told him.

Criminal defense attorney Sean Hullinger testified that crisis intervention training helps officers respond and deescalate a situation without resorting to guns, but it requires money. He also urged lawmakers to push for outside agencies to investigate misconduct claims involving police.

While the committee voted for a task force, it does not mean new legislation will come this year. Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he had a bill that provided more body cameras for police agencies.

The body cameras were supported by Salt Lake City Police Officer Bill Manzaneras, who did not give testimony. He showed up to answer questions and provide the perspective of a "beat cop."

"I love it," he said of his body camera perched on his shoulder and pointed at lawmakers. "It's reassuring to me."

Manzaneras said he records every stop, noting that people are often filming him with their cell phones. It also avoids any potential for claims of improper behavior, he said, recalling how he once escorted a woman alone on an elevator -- with the body cam on.