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State questions SLCPD over gun law as an officer’s career hangs in the balance

Posted at 9:41 PM, Aug 09, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers wanted answers after learning an officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department could lose his job for trying to follow a new law meant to stop gun owners from being ticketed at the airport.

SLCPD Chief Mike Brown and Captain Stefhan Bennett were called to the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday to give a presentation and answer questions, but they did not specifically address the pending case.

Lawmakers emphasized they still want travelers who intentionally try to bring a gun to the airport to be charged with a crime, but HB461 intended to make it so those who honestly forgot about the gun in their carry-on bag are no longer issued a citation.

Rep. Stephanie Gricius, R-Eagle Mountain, said she has spoken with nine SLCPD officers who reported being required to write tickets anyway by classifying all cases as “reckless.”

Lawmakers described travelers being “aware” of the gun being in their bag as “reckless.”

They believe travelers who “should be aware” of the gun in their bag are not to be cited.

“They can’t feign ignorance on this one,” Gricius said. “They need to adjust their policies to fit state law rather than trying to make state law fit their policies.”

Capt. Bennett said, since the law changed, most cases “are meeting the reckless standard.”

“They’re not showing the same ‘standard of care’ that an ordinary person traveling through the airport would,” he said. “We take the safety and security of the traveling public very seriously.”

“We have officers on the ground saying one thing and administration saying another thing,” Gricius said. “I’ve spoken with (the officer on leave). I know it’s going to be a hardship for him and his family to be in that predicament. I wish that weren’t the case.”

Lawmakers argued that SLCPD is, at the very least, violating the “intent” of the law.

SLCPD was part of conversations surrounding HB461 and originally testified against it.

“Do you feel that policy that you’ve enacted or have been carrying out is in line with the legislative intent of the law?” asked Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West.

“I feel it’s in accordance with the way the law is written,” responded Capt. Bennett.

“Okay,” Gwynn said, “but do you feel it is in line with the legislative intent?”

“I can’t speak to the intent,” Capt. Bennett said.

Legislators said they expect better from law enforcement.

“It’s not a misunderstanding,” Gricius said. “It’s a disagreement.”

“There is still a disconnect,” said Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-North Ogden. “There’s obviously a lack of trust, and hopefully we can try to remedy that.”

Gricius said she plans to pass additional legislation to protect officers and clarify the law.

Although lawmakers said they dislike passing bills aimed at specific police departments, they indicated it might be necessary in this case.

“Are they required to follow the intent of the law if they don’t feel like it matches the letter of the law?” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“I think that’s a gray area,” Gricius responded. “I do feel like we can make that clearer.”

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