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Four months into new law, Salt Lake City has failed to enact police body camera audits

Chief Mike Brown and Mayor Erin Mendenhall
Posted at 9:40 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 01:20:02-04

It has been more than four months since the Salt Lake City Council passed a new ordinance mandating a monthly external audit of police body camera video.

Upon requesting copies of the monthly reports generated from these outside reviews, FOX 13 Investigates has learned the city has not yet performed an audit.

Per the ordinance, Mayor Erin Mendenhall was supposed to designate a "qualified individual outside of the Salt Lake City Police Department" to randomly review at least five recordings per month. The external review is to ensure officers are following state law and department policy.

Rachel Otto, the mayor's chief of staff, said city administrators are trying to figure out the logistics and budget surrounding a potential new position created within the city.

The mayor has not yet conducted any interviews for the position.

According to Otto, Mayor Mendenhall will make sure to "have a clear path forward" within the next month and hopes to designate someone to perform audits by July, prior to the beginning of the upcoming fiscal year.

"It wasn't our ordinance, but we of course are working now to implement what the city council's vision is for body worn cameras," Otto said. "That, while in principle, makes a lot of sense and seems pretty easy to just designate a person, we want to be very careful about who that person is and what experience and skills they bring to that position. We want to make sure that person knows what he or she is looking at and is well qualified to identify whether or not there are potential policy violations."

Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, has been complimentary of Mayor Mendenhall in the past. This time Scott said she was disappointed with the lack of action.

"I feel like when something is a priority, it's taken care of swiftly," Scott said. "We would like the footage reviewed, and hopefully not in a few months, but as soon as possible... A few months from now is not fast enough."

According to Salt Lake City Attorney Katie Lewis, all ordinances in Salt Lake City carry the force of law.

In fact, during a public meeting in October in which staff were discussing the same body camera ordinance, city councilmembers and employees spoke with Chief Mike Brown about the possibility of an arrest if he does not provide body camera video to the council within five days of an officer-involved critical incident.

"Whether or not the chief of police doesn't provide the body camera footage within five business days would rise to the level of misdemeanor, I'm not going to speculate," Lewis said, "but ordinances certainly have more teeth and have the force of law in a way that a policy does not."

FOX 13 asked if the same could be true for Mayor Mendenhall.

"That’s a pretty straightforward matter of making sure that we release that footage (within five days). This is slightly more complex, as I’ve tried to describe, and we want to make sure we get the right person in place," Otto said. "As to whether or not there’s a legal obligation for the mayor to follow those ordinances? Sure. Do I think that the city council is interested in trying to charge the mayor with a Class B misdemeanor for taking some months to get this right? I don’t think so."

Otto said body camera videos are still being reviewed routinely by SLCPD internal affairs.

"I don't think that our department would have anything to be afraid of," Otto said.

"I did go to a school once to speak about civil rights, and I asked the students, 'What would your grades be like if we let your best friends and your classmates grade your papers?' and they said, 'We would have amazing grades!' and I said, 'Yes, that is why we push for independent oversight,'" Scott explained.

An earlier draft of the ordinance asked the Civilian Review Board Administrator to review the body camera video. This changed after Councilmember Amy Fowler expressed concerns over the Civilian Review Board's current workload.

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