Utah lawmakers hold study session on police use of force

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Posted: Apr 27, 2015 6:04 PM
Utah lawmakers hold study session on police use of force

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers concerned about recent civilian deaths at the hands of police around the country held the first of several sessions Monday as they review how officers in the state use deadly force.

Following turmoil late last year over shootings and other incidents in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, lawmakers on the Administrative Rules Review Committee outlined a plan in January to review police practices with the hope of making any improvements and reassuring the public.

In Utah, one such incident was the September death of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, who was wielding a samurai sword in Saratoga Springs when police shot him. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting. Hunt's family has said he wasn't a threat but was treated differently because he was black.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, requested the committee's review and said Monday that he was concerned about the list of groups scheduled to appear before the panel. Lawmakers need to hear not just from police and lawyers but from minority communities or those who feel victimized by officers, he said.

"My question across this sea of white is: Where are the victims? Where are the people that are going to cause Utah to have another Ferguson or to have a Baltimore?" Dabakis said.

Clearfield Republican Rep. Curtis Oda, a chair of the committee, said the American Civil Liberties Union, defense attorneys and other groups will make presentations to the committee. He invited Dabakis to submit the names of any other individuals or groups he'd like to hear from.

"We just want to get to the point where we understand why some of these things are happening," Oda said. Oda said he also wants members of the public to better understand what police officers go through.

Lawmakers on Monday didn't take any action but spent about an hour and a half discussing police training and whether the state should require special crisis training, where officers are taught to de-escalate situations involving those with mental or emotional issues.

Clint Anderson, a 35-year-old from Logan, described to lawmakers how different police interactions affect people like himself who have mental illness. Anderson said he hallucinates and hears voices and said police can keep a situation from intensifying by asking understanding questions such as, "How can I help?" instead of accusatory questions about someone's intentions or recent whereabouts.

Scott Stephenson, the director of Utah's Peace Officer Standards and Training, said all officers are trained about when to use force and how to de-escalate situations. He said requiring all officers to undergo additional crisis intervention training, as Salt Lake City has done, would be costly.

Stephenson said smaller, rural departments bear the costs of paying for travel to Salt Lake County for the 40-hour training, in addition to paying other officers overtime to cover their shifts.

Stephenson said he didn't know how much training costs per officer, but it costs his department $3,000 to $4,000 each time they offer the class.

Draper Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson, who is not related to Scott Stephenson, said if the state made it a requirement they'd try to pay for that requirement.

He said from what lawmakers understand, police training to use weapons and other force is fairly uniform across Utah but rules for investigating incidents vary.

Stephenson said lawmakers will dive into that in a future meeting. The committee plans to meet again in May.