West Valley City Council calls for better police oversight
West Valley City • City Council members, saying they're frustrated with recent police incidents, have directed City Manager Wayne Pyle to come up with ways to improve the municipality's Professional Standards Review Board.
The call for better police oversight comes in the wake of an announcement that the Salt Lake County district attorney's office is dismissing 19 cases due to problems involving a West Valley City detective and controversy over the fatal shooting of a woman last year by officers investigating a purported drug deal.
A letter signed by Mayor Mike Winder and the other six West Valley City Council members asks Pyle to report back at an April 9 study meeting.
"As a council, we are frustrated with the recent issues that have come to light related to our police department," the letter says. "We understand why some of our residents are disappointed and as a council will want to ensure there is a proper process and enhanced transparency and accountability as we move forward."
Six volunteers constitute the West Valley City Professional Standards Review Board, a civilian body monitoring the city's 190 police officers. The review board does not publish its work and does not have the autonomy that other police monitors across the nation do.
Philip Eure, past president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, said sharing statistics represents a "core function" of such review boards, and had never heard of such a board not publishing statistics.
It's unclear who serves on the review board. Some members' names were found in City Council meeting minutes, but a roster of board members was not found on any city website.
The letter says the board is a "critical piece" in reviewing questionable police actions. The elected officials ask Pyle to consider the makeup of board members, potential term limits and publicly listing the roster of board members.
"We strongly encourage you to look at ways to increase transparency with the board, such as posting of agendas and minutes, issuing quarterly reports, and sharing of statistics," the elected officials wrote. "We also ask you to look at the potential of providing this board with its own full-time investigator or other methods to increase their independence and abilities to do their job."
Councilman Steve Buhler said the timing is right for the review because the city will be getting a new police chief. Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, who had been chief since 2002, resigned effective March 8 for medical reasons and West Valley is in the process of replacing him.
"We want to be better, whatever it takes," Buhler said.
Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle contributed to this article.