Bill to disband polygamous town's police department dies
A Utah bill that would have disbanded a police department in a town populated by followers of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs was short-lived.
The proposal to dismantle any department where more than half of the officers have been disciplined in a four-year period was introduced and died Friday.
Though aimed at the marshal's office that serves the combined border community of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, it could have "unintended consequences" on small police departments in Utah, said Chief Deputy Utah Attorney General Kirk Torgensen.
"There are a lot of issues, a lot of questions, that are coming up with law enforcement," he said. "We want to make sure whatever we put on the books was the right thing to put on the books."
More than third of police departments in Utah 59 out of 145 had fewer than 10 officers in 2010, according to numbers published by the Department of Public Safety.
An attorney for the city of Hildale said there could also be civil rights problems with the proposal.
The bill will be studied after the Utah Legislature adjourns this week, and possibly introduced again next year.
"We don't want this dropped. We don't want anyone to think we're just walking away from it," Torgensen said.
Meanwhile, similar legislation in Arizona has passed the Senate unanimously and is set to be heard soon in the House, said Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne.
He said he is backing the bill after a law enforcement task force "agreed unanimously the first priority was to get objective police who would uphold the law rather than people who would uphold the authority of Warren Jeffs."
Arizona's bill proposes disbanding any department where more than half of the officers have been decertified in the past eight years a designation that applies only to Colorado City. The bill has emergency status in Arizona, which, if it passes, would make it law immediately after the governor signs it, bypassing a typical 90-day waiting period.
Horne said he didn't anticipate a problem if the marshal's office remains intact in Utah but is disbanded in Arizona.
"We'll have the [Mohave County] sheriff's department cover it," Horne said Monday, adding he hoped the Utah bill would be reintroduced. The Arizona bill will next be heard by a state House of Representatives committee, though it hasn't been placed on an agenda yet.
There have also been some law enforcement questions about the proposal in Arizona, though they haven't yet been raised publicly, Horne said.
The Colorado City/Hildale town marshal's office has long been dogged by complaints of differing treatment for residents who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and more recently for not vigorously enforcing occupancy agreements issued by a court-appointed administrator of the sect's property trust.
Six officers were decertified between 2003 and 2007, mainly for practicing polygamy and refusing to answer questions about Jeffs while he was on the run from police. Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and is now serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted of marrying and sexually assaulting underage girls.
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