SALT LAKE CITY — A series of bills have been introduced ahead of Utah's legislative session next week that would limit "no-knock" search warrants and allow for greater discipline for officers who use excessive force.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, has filed House Bill 73, which would allow Utah's Peace Officer Standards & Training to investigate and discipline officers who violate a use of force policy. Right now, an officer can be disciplined internally by a police department — but the state cannot take action against their badge for excessive use of force.
"If an officer violates this standard use of force policy, they can be disciplined by a state agency," Rep. Stoddard said of his bill.
Disciplinary measures imposed by the POST Council include suspensions up to revocation of someone's badge, prohibiting them from working in law enforcement. The agency recently adopted a statewide policy governing use of force and excessive force.
"I think what’s important is the state is setting the standard, saying 'this is at a minimum what we agree is important for our officers to abide by.' Any department can go in and enact something more stringent and I’m fine with that, but this is saying if you violate this bare minimum we can hold you accountable," Rep. Stoddard said.
Major Scott Stephenson, the executive director of POST, said he was waiting to see what the legislature does with the bill. The Utah Chiefs of Police Association said it had not yet taken a stance on Rep. Stoddard's legislation.
Rae Duckworth, the operations director of Utah's Black Lives Matter chapter, told FOX 13 that while they are generally supportive of policing reform bills, she had questions about police investigating police. She noted POST trains officers on acceptable use of force, then would now be disciplining officers for the same policy.
"We support the power not being the police to investigate, discipline or any of that within themselves. Of course we support a different entity to be in charge of that," she said, arguing for community involvement in these issues. "If you commit a crime, and you make it to the courthouse, you’re judged by 12 of your peers. Why not the same scenario when these people are policing our neighborhoods?"
Lawmakers will also consider some other use of force legislation. Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, has filed a bill to require investigations into use of force be completed within 180 days and, if not, prosecutors must publicly disclose why it's taking so long and when it will be done. When it is done, Rep. Birkeland wants reports published online for the public to view.
Tucked into House Bill 123 is also a requirement that police using force "shall identify himself or herself as a peace officer and give a clear oral warning of his or her intent to use a firearm or other physical force."
Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, is proposing to restrict "no-knock" warrants in the state. House Bill 124 would require that police officers:
- Wear readily identifiable markings or clothing that identify them as law enforcement officers;
- Requires that officers knock and announce themselves more than once before forcibly entering a building;
- Sets a preference for warrants to be served during daytime hours;
- Prohibits the use of no-knock warrants for misdemeanor charges