West Valley City • The police review board in Utah’s second largest city is recommending more training for officers on the proper way to handle evidence and an outreach effort to get more residents to attend its meetings.
In addition, the Professional Standards Review Board (PSRB) wants each police car equipped with a hobble strap, which is a lightweight belt used to restrain a prisoner’s legs or arms.
"Hobble straps are an alternative to other means of force, such as pepper spray or taser deployment, that are more uncomfortable and more difficult to deploy," the PSRB says in its 2013 annual report, which was presented Tuesday to the West Valley City Council at its study meeting.
The recommendations come in the wake of months of controversy surrounding the West Valley City Police Department that stems from the dismissal of dozens of drug cases because of evidence-handling problems by the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. The department also has been under intense criticism because of the fatal shooting of Danielle Willard during an alleged drug bust in 2012 and its handling of the investigation into the 2009 disappearance of West Valley mother Susan Powell.
In its report, the PSRB notes attendees can make comments and voice concerns about policing issues at its monthly meetings.
"We encourage the City Council and City staff to reach out to citizens and invite them to participate in our public meetings," the report says.
The report results from one of the changes contained in an ordinance enacted last year by the council, which wanted better police oversight. Under the ordinance, the board now issues quarterly and annual reports on its operations; citizens can attend PSRB meetings; the police no longer have a role in appointing the body’s members; and all seven members are civilians.
The summary of last year’s board activities includes the review of 96 allegations against officers and the sustaining of 20 of those complaints. Two of the sustained allegations claimed officers had behaved rudely, one concerned the incomplete documentation of a sex-offender registration and 17 were improprieties uncovered during the investigation of the narcotics unit, according to the report.
The report says the board was pleased to learn that the city’s legal department had conducted department-wide training in August that addressed chain-of-custody issues and preservation of evidence and suggested that additional training be scheduled in 2014.
PSRB Chairman Dean Trump said failure to follow proper procedures had led to many of the sustained allegations.
"We recommend that there be classes taught to all of our police force on handling evidence," he told council members.
Other 2013 PSRB activities included the review of 970 uses of force such as firearm and taser displays, physical restraints and K-9 deployment.
The board found one incident, the deployment of a taser during a confrontation on a rooftop, was "out of policy." The force was not excessive, the PSRB said, but "the particular means used was not optimal for the context on a rooftop."
And the report says there were 72 pursuits during 2013, all of them "in policy."
In the Willard shooting, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Aug. 8 that the use of deadly force against the unarmed woman was not justified. His office is screening possible criminal charges against the two detectives involved in the shooting, who deny any wrongdoing.
One of the detectives, Shaun Cowley, was fired in September on allegations of mishandling evidence. The other, Kevin Salmon, remains on paid administrative leave.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.