When acting West Valley City Police Chief Anita Schwemmer announced the other day that the FBI will investigate her department, she implied that the feds first had been invited to get involved by city police "to rebuild public trust." That's not how it happened.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill rightly asked the federal law enforcement agency to help investigate West Valley police after his department found serious problems with the way the city's officers have been conducting business. Gill had dismissed 19 mostly drug-related cases in West Valley because of poor investigations and is concerned about the circumstances of the fatal shooting of a young, unarmed drug user by city detectives.
The FBI will focus on the tactics of a disbanded neighborhood narcotics unit and the possible coverup of officers' involvement in the death of 21-year-old Danielle Willard last November. One detective, in particular, was involved in many of the dismissed cases and the Willard shooting. But it seems likely that more than just one officer is involved.
The tone of the press conference was just another example of how West Valley police have for too long managed to misrepresent their failures and keep their behavior out of public view. The department must now face a full accounting, and it's long overdue. The West Valley City Council and Mayor Mike Winder also deserve blame for failing to demand more transparency.
Problems became apparent to city residents, if not to city leaders, when the department failed to answer questions about its work on the disappearance of Susan Powell four years ago. The only "person of interest" in that case, her husband Josh Powell, eventually murdered the couple's two boys and killed himself.
The families of Susan Powell and Danielle Willard have been largely ignored as they tried to find out what happened to their daughters.
The recent developments indicate a systemic lack of discipline and oversight by the city. The city's citizen Professional Standards Review Board is more of a police-affirmation board. It does not publish its data and findings, and its cozy relationship with police is undermining what should be the board's mission: to protect the rights and interests of citizens.
With the intervention of Gill and the FBI, we expect to finally get some answers about the conduct of the city's police force. City leaders should make the police more accountable to the public they serve.
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