Utah’s next governor urged to reform police training and discipline

Gov.-elect Spencer Cox’s transition team say restructure is needed for Utah’s police regulators.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Police gather evidence on State Street in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.

Advisers to Gov.-elect Spencer Cox are suggesting big changes to the agency in charge of disciplining and training Utah’s police officers.

Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) is currently housed within the Department of Public Safety, and is responsible for both training new cadets and doling out discipline if a police officer does something wrong.

A three-member transition team wrote in a report for Cox that there’s potential for a perceived conflict of interest since POST, which investigates law enforcement misconduct, is located within a law enforcement agency.

“If the public knows the entity tasked with investigating complaints against law enforcement is independent,” the report reads, “the public will have greater faith in the ultimate decisions of that body.”

The transition report suggests moving POST to the governor’s Commission of Crime and Juvenile Justice, or to the Utah Attorney General’s Office. A third option would be turning it into an independent government entity, like the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

This recommendation comes at the end of a year marked with protests against police and heightened interest in police reform, particularly after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In light of that, the transition team suggested reforming POST by the end of 2021.

“In the last year, issues surrounding law enforcement functions, tactics, training, and accountability reached the consciousness of the American public in an unprecedented way,” the report reads. “This newfound consciousness presents an opportunity to restore and improve the public’s trust in law enforcement by taking concrete steps to improve police training, discipline, and public oversight.”

The recommendations came as part of a series of reports released last week, a review that Cox ordered after being elected to office. Cox’s transition team reviewed each state agency and made a number of suggestions for how to make the departments better and retain quality workers.

The Department of Public Safety was reviewed by Brigham Young University law professor Lisa Sun, Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels and Carlton Christensen, who is the board chair of the Utah Transit Authority.

The team also suggested that POST council be restructured, suggesting that fewer members would speed up processes and make them more efficient in dealing with law enforcement complaints. It also suggested having two members on the council who represent Utah’s minority communities.

There are currently 17 people on the POST council — a mix of police chiefs, sheriffs, state employees and community members. The advisers suggested dropping that to nine.

The transition team also recommended overhauling POST’s training of new cadets, saying that a restructure would be a natural time to review that curriculum and work to improve the training. They suggested that representatives from academia, law enforcement, lawyers, mental health workers and minority groups work together to analyze the curriculum.

“Revamping law enforcement training curriculum is another important piece of meaningful reform,” the report reads. “It also instills public confidence in the law enforcement community.”

These recommendations are just suggestions, and there’s no guarantee Cox will implement them when he takes office. DPS Commissioner Jess Anderson, who is staying in his position, didn’t address the recommendation specifically in a statement, but said a transition of leadership is “always a good time to look at organizations and processes.”

“Working together with Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect [Deidre] Henderson, we have the ability to make a significant impact on public safety, establish trust and the well-being of people of the state of Utah,” he said.

Discussions around moving POST out of the Department of Public Safety are not new. Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who is the president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said there’s been talk of doing so for a few years.

But he said the police chiefs haven’t had a chance to discuss the transition team report, so couldn’t say whether their association would support the move.

“There’s pros and cons with making this type of change,” said Ross, who is not on the POST council. “We look forward to being part of the conversation and exploring the best way to provide training for new recruits.”

Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen, who is the president of the Utah Sheriff’s Association, said Tuesday that his organization opposes the restructure.

“At this point,” he said, “given the limited data, detail and lack of conversation with all players in law enforcement and public safety, the Utah Sheriffs would be opposed to any restructuring of POST and the POST council.”