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Utah troopers commit major breaches, UHP statistics show

Published December 17, 2012 12:20 pm

Though there's a "fairly large number" of upheld charges, expert says, agency isn't sweeping problems under the rug.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers committed 82 serious violations of policy or state law during three years, according to statistics released by UHP.

UHP found lesser policy violations in 41 other cases. The agency provided the data on Dec. 5, months after The Salt Lake Tribune requested it.

The data cover the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 and represent complaints filed against troopers by the public or colleagues. UHP divides complaints into two categories: Serious violations of policy or state law are called Category I complaints. The lesser cases are called Category II.

The statistics do not specify the transgressions, although a few episodes have been reported over the years.

In 2010, UHP Cpl. Lisa Steed was issued a letter of reprimand for removing her microphone while having a suspect perform a field sobriety test. UHP spokesman Dwayne Baird said that was one of the Category II complaints.

UHP has about 425 troopers. UHP and the Salt Lake City Police Department run neck and neck as the two largest police forces in the state.

The UHP statistics show that the majority of complaints against troopers are found to be without merit. That's typical for police forces across the country.

Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said it's difficult to compare rates of sustained complaints from one police force to another. Some police departments make it easier than others to file complaints or have more interaction with the public. Other factors, such as varying standards for what constitutes misconduct, also can influence the number of complaints.

However, Walker wrote in an email to The Tribune, UHP appears to have a "fairly large number" of sustained allegations. That can be a good thing, he said.

"Although we can't put this into any meaningful context, it does say that the agency is not sweeping them all under the rug," Walker wrote.

The Tribune first asked for misconduct statistics in the summer. Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird said UHP had no such statistics. Then, in a written response to inquiries from the newspaper for an investigation published last month, UHP said providing such statistics is "a laborious but not impossible task."

The Nov. 18 Tribune article raised questions about how UHP investigates misconduct allegations and reported that UHP did not have discipline data.

In a Nov. 29 meeting with The Tribune, UHP Maj. Mike Rapich and Maj. Mike Kuehn said UHP tracks complaints and reviews statistics quarterly. On Thursday, Baird said he and a UHP attorney, Lana Taylor, did not previously know those statistics were compiled.

In the Nov. 29 meeting, Rapich said UHP has a sergeant assigned to track complaints against troopers and to call on supervisors to ensure complaints are investigated.

"We feel like we're extremely conscientious in following up on problems," Rapich said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle