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Lawmakers push back on police use-of-force reform ideas

Posted at 2:02 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 20:52:19-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A series of policing policy changes pushed by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill are facing pushback from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The 22 proposals were presented on Thursday to the Utah State Legislature's Criminal Code Evaluation Task Force, which reviews changes to state laws.

"This document of 22 policy proposals is not an exhaustive list on how to reform law enforcement at large across the state of Utah," said William Carlson, a deputy attorney in the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Ideas being proposed include:

  • Revising the legal standard surrounding use of force
  • Requiring the use of "less-than-lethal" weapons first
  • Removing the legal justification for force when someone is not an imminent danger to an officer or someone else
  • Banning the use of deadly force on someone threatening suicide
  • Removing "qualified immunity" for police
  • Increasing the number of civilian review boards in Utah
  • Removing a defense for officers when someone is shot and they don't have a weapon

"By defining necessary and then encouraging de-escalation or the officers themselves not to encourage escalation, maybe you have some of these unfortunate shootings that could be avoided," said Darcy Goddard, the chief policy advisor for the DA's Office.

Read the full list of policy proposals here

But lawmakers on the task force pushed back at some policy proposals. Reacting to shootings where a person is later found to be unarmed, Carlson suggested removing a defense for officers.

"Those situations are situations that really inflame the general public when an officer says, ‘Oh, I thought he was going to shoot me’ and then everybody clearly observes there was not a weapon or an ability to cause death or injury," he said.

"You know, Will, it doesn’t inflame the public," Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, replied. "It inflames a few people that don’t like law enforcement, to be quite honest with you."

"Well, it inflames some people," Carlson said.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said it was easy for many to "second guess" police officers after the fact. Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, agreed.

Members of the task force agreed with some policy proposals, but largely resisted the list of policing changes. It could be a sign of difficulty passing some in the overall Utah State Legislature.

"The thing that bothers me a lot right now, people keep saying they want to change police behavior. Let’s change criminal behavior. That’s the problem. The problem’s not your police officers. The problem is your criminals, it’s your rioters," said Rep. Ray.

The Utah State Legislature is expected to contemplate a number of policing reforms in response to protests over racial inequality and police brutality. Political leaders on a state and local level have already passed some legislation for local reforms.