Utah police officers could soon be banned from shooting at someone if the person is suicidal but isn’t a threat to anyone else.
The state law now says a police officer is allowed to use deadly force if a suspect poses “a threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or to others.”
HB237, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, clarifies that police should not shoot if the suspect is only a threat to themselves.
“I know that our community wants better outcomes,” Dailey-Provost said Friday. “I absolutely know our law enforcement wants better outcomes. No police officer wants to be in the situation where they are confronting someone who is attempting suicide-by-cop.”
Tiffany James, whose 19-year-old son was shot and killed by a Cottonwood Heights police officer in 2018, told members of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee that the change in the law is needed.
James said the officer who shot and killed her son, Zane James, could have used a Taser or a less lethal weapon to arrest him as he tried to run from the police.
“This bill is a critical first step in changing that growing concern over lethal force being used by officers as a first response versus an absolute last response,” she said. “Especially when you have situations where police are responding to a person who is suffering from an emotion crisis, which our son was.”
Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Darcy Goddard said during the Friday committee hearing that by adding this language to the law, it will affect how police officers are trained. Currently they are taught to “eliminate the threat,” but the law change would give police the ability to retreat or take a different approach if they are interacting with someone who is suicidal.
“What we’re trying to do here is give officers the training — and the permission — to step back and take a step away from the idea that they have to abate the threat no matter what,” Goddard said.
The committee gave unanimous approval of the bill, and it now heads to the Senate for a full vote. The bill already cleared the House on a 54-16 vote.
Daily-Provost was asked Friday why 16 representatives voted against the bill, and she said several of her colleagues told her “things were moving fast” and they felt too many police reform bills were being run this session.
The Senate committee on Thursday also gave unanimous approval to HB334, which would require Utah police officers to receive yearly training in how to respond to people with mental illnesses, autism and other neurological and developmental disorders.
The bill comes after a Salt Lake City police officer shot and critically injured a 13-year-old boy, who has autism, in September.
Linden Cameron’s mom had called police for help to get her son to a hospital for treatment. She sought a trained crisis intervention officer. That was not what she got.
Instead, several Salt Lake City police officers responded and chased after the boy as he ran. One of them opened fire, severely injuring the teen.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said the bill is a “modest step” that will provide better training for police in how to interact with the public.