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Police watchers

Published April 3, 2013 3:00 pm

West Valley policies need overhaul
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

It's time for the West Valley City Council to get some answers about the conduct of the city's police force. And, in doing so, the city leaders should make the police more accountable to the public they serve.

Mayor Mike Winder and six council members have ordered the city administrator to find ways to improve the way the Professional Standards Review Board operates. Right now, the citizen oversight board is more of a police-behavior-affirmation board. The apparent coziness between the police and the board is undermining what should be the board's mission: to protect the rights and interests of citizens.

The West Valley City police review board is not functioning as it should. Its six volunteer members' names are not readily available, it does not publish its data and findings and it is too close to the police it is supposed to oversee.

There are good reasons for city officials to tighten oversight of the police department. Last week the Salt Lake County district attorney's office said it is dismissing 19 cases involving a West Valley detective due to a lack of "sufficient credible evidence with which to obtain a conviction." In another troubling incident, an unarmed young woman was shot in the head by a West Valley officer after what police described as a drug transaction.

Since the shooting of Danielle Willard, 21, on Nov. 2, her family has asked repeatedly for more information about how the shooting happened and why. Little has been forthcoming from the department. Details outlined in a search warrant for Willard's car state that she backed her car out of a parking stall and hit one of two plainclothes officers who were approaching her car. Both officers then fired at her, and she was shot to death.

One of the officers has been named by the Utah Fraternal Order of Police as the detective whose 19 cases are being dismissed by the district attorney.

The residents of Utah's second largest city deserve more openness from their police force. Five months is too long to keep them and Willard's family waiting for answers.

District Attorney Sim Gill may have better luck getting the facts of the case. He plans to meet with West Valley police authorities this week to begin a review of their investigation into the Willard shooting. Gill's office will determine if the use of deadly force was legally justified. If it finds it was not, criminal charges should be brought against the WVCPD detectives who shot Willard.

Police officers have a tough job, but they must be held accountable for their actions, especially when public safety is in question.