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West Valley City meets with Latino leaders after racial profiling allegations

Published May 16, 2013 6:39 am

Case dismissals • Groups agree on strategies to improve community relations.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • Latino leaders will provide "cultural competency" training for police officers and the city will translate a complaint form into Spanish and other languages as part of an effort to build trust between the minority community and law enforcement.

In addition, the community leaders will arrange meetings where West Valley City police officers and city officials can talk with residents.

The plan was reached Wednesday in a 3½-hour closed-door meeting between West Valley City officials and community members to discuss the dismissal of scores of drug cases because of the alleged mishandling of evidence and concerns about possible racial profiling.

Tony Yapias, coordinator of Proyecto Latino de Utah, and acting Police Chief Anita Schwemmer both said the meeting, which was mediated by a Department of Justice representative, was a good first step in rebuilding trust.

The West Valley City Police Department is the subject of local, state and federal probes involving allegations of corruption and evidence mishandling by the department's narcotics unit. The allegations have resulted in 124 cases being dismissed by state and federal prosecutors and nine members of the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit being put on leave.

In addition, investigators also are looking into the fatal shooting by unit officers in November of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during an alleged drug bust.

Yapias and Archie Archu-leta, president of the board of directors of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, had requested a meeting with police officials because the majority of defendants in the dismissed cases were Latino. Schwemmer said Wednesday that because the ingredients to make illegal drugs are more difficult to get in the United States, drug production has shifted to Latin American countries, leading to more Latinos being involved in the narcotics trade.

"It all has to do with economics, not race," she said.

Yapias said the explanation has allayed his concerns about profiling and that the meeting was "very constructive." He also said translation of the online complaint form will help community members report problems with the police.

Eleven people attended Wednesday's meeting, including Sen. Luz Robles, Rep. Angela Romero and West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle.

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC