Since at least 2003, Salt Lake City’s Police Civilian Review Board has been tasked with independently investigating reports of police misconduct and excessive force.
But the last time the board publicly released any findings on its website was more than two years ago, in January 2021, when it stated officers did not violate department policy in a July 2020 fatal police shooting.
The independent review board is not required to publicly disseminate its reports, but without sharing them, its lack of transparency largely leaves the public in the dark about the decisions and recommendations its members make about allegations of police wrongdoing.
Its most recent quarterly report was last issued in February 2022, only detailing case decisions from 2021. And the 21-member group also has eight vacancies — with five of its 13 current members serving on expired terms. A city spokesperson said having so many “long-standing” members doesn’t affect the work the board does. Yet those who have attempted to fill the board’s vacancies have faced monthslong delays to be seated.
“This process badly needs updating,” said Jeremy Beckham, who was appointed to the board in September 2022 but spent months waiting to be formally seated.
Beckham only attended his first civilian review board meeting on April 18 — after a public notice was posted online, and he took it upon himself to attend. By then, Beckham had already spent months working on prerequisites that included police ride-alongs in each sector of the city, though he is not done: The board instead notified him after the April meeting that he would be able to complete his remaining prerequisites concurrently with his service.
“It’s not very representative of the community,” Beckham said of the board. “And I just think that a lot of people probably give up at some point in this process.”
What is the board supposed to do?
The independent Police Civilian Review Board is supposed to hold regular meetings once every three months, and meet as needed for case-review panels. Each panel is made up of five randomly selected members, and a new group is selected for each case. City code recommends that these panels are held in executive session and not open to the public.
The panel process is initiated when the board’s full-time administrator submits a case report to the panel, which includes a summary of the case details and the administrator’s recommendation. The report is supposed to be turned in within five days of the completion of a Police Department internal affairs investigation.
The administrator prepares such reports using all available police department case files — except those considered “confidential by law.” The administrator also has the power to interview a witness or officer in connection with a case; if they decline, the administrator can ask the mayor to compel a witness or officer to be interviewed. But the board and its panels cannot call or interview witnesses as a group.
Once a panel comes to a decision based on the administrator’s information, they provide a report to Salt Lake City’s police chief on their ruling and any recommendations. City code states these reports should be filed at least 10 business days prior to an involved officer’s pre-disciplinary hearing.
But that deadline is not usually met, Andrew Wittenberg, the mayor’s director of communications, said in an email.
“Sometimes the [Police Department’s] internal review will be completed before the [Civilian Review Board’s] investigation is done, and we cannot hold up an officer’s pre-disciplinary process without violating the officer’s employment rights as a government employee,” Wittenberg said in an email.
Any district attorney’s office investigations into possible criminal charges for an officer also must be completed before a civilian review board panel can take place, Wittenberg said.
The chief can, in “exigent circumstances,” determine a disciplinary decision must be made prior to the review board’s report, according to city code. But outside of those circumstances, the chief is required to “review and consider” the board’s reports before making disciplinary decisions in a case.
After the chief determines whether to discipline an officer in a case that the board has reviewed, the chief is required to submit a report to the board outlining his ruling. If the board disagrees with the chief’s report, they may communicate their disagreement to the chief in writing, with a copy to the mayor, city code states. But there is no outlined appeal process.
It’s unclear how many times, if ever, the board has disagreed with a chief’s ruling in writing. Wittenberg said the city does not have a record of such documented disagreements.
Why so many vacancies?
The board’s membership was expanded from 14 members to 21 in 2020, Wittenberg said. All members are appointed by the mayor, and its recent expansion was intended to include a representative from each of the city’s seven districts.
But the seats were unfilled at the time due to due to COVID-19 restrictions against police ride-alongs — one of the prerequisites a member is required to complete before officially being seated on the board. Of the board’s 13 current members, five are serving on expired terms — staying on “during the most recent onboarding process” to help the work of the board continue, Wittenberg said.
Jeremy Beckham first applied to Salt Lake City’s Police Civilian Review Board in January 2022. With his background as a paralegal, he was interested in serving on a city board or commission.
After he initially submitted his application, he didn’t hear anything until March 2022 — when he received a postcard urging him to apply to the board, similar to the one that prompted him to apply back in January. He emailed City Council staff to say that he had already applied — but hadn’t heard back — and he was told officials would look into it.
Meanwhile, months later, he received another postcard.
At that point, Beckham wrote a Letter to the Editor, published Aug. 14 in The Salt Lake Tribune, in which he discussed the application process. Almost immediately after it ran, the mayor’s office called to discuss his nomination, Beckham said.
“The two other [board nominees] that I went through this internal affairs training with also got phone calls right around that same time,” Beckham said. “I did an interview, just like is standard with the mayor’s office, and then I was nominated.”
Beckham’s appointment was confirmed Oct. 4. The other two nominees were confirmed Sept. 6. But around six months later, the three still had not been seated on the board or weren’t able to participate.
After Beckham saw the public notice about the April 18 board meeting, he decided to attend. He has since been informed that he can complete his remaining prerequisites concurrently with his service. The other two members who were appointed in September were not at the meeting.
“I think one of the problems with this process is our term on the board actually starts pulling from that day — from when the City Council confirms us,” Beckham said. “Our term’s only three years... And our clock is already ticking on our term on this board, but because the city has just been moving so slow, 1/6 or more of our term will have run out by the time we end up on the board.”
Wittenberg said the time it takes to be onboarded to the Police Civilian Review Board is more lengthy “given the subject matter expertise required, and the training needed to reach that level.”
“The City is currently working on proposed changes to the onboarding process to make it less time consuming and invasive,” Wittenberg said, “with the hope that more residents will be encouraged to apply.”
The background check process was also lengthy, Beckham said. He and the other appointees had to be interviewed by a police detective “for a couple hours,” and the detective went through all of the appointees’ social media, printed out Tweets they had “liked,” called neighbors and contacted their previous workplaces going back 10 years.
“The very Police Department that we’re going to be overseeing, was doing this vetting of us,” Beckham said. “We had already gone through the political appointed process, by the way — we’d already been nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.”
Before functioning as a member, board members are also required to complete a training course on police procedure, the duties of the board, and cultural diversity; at least one three-hour ride along in each of the city’s police sectors; meetings with selected community groups and persons who have an interest in police oversight, as determined by the police chief and the mayor; and two hours of internal affairs training.
According to city code, the mayor “shall revoke the appointment” of any member who fails to complete all of the training requirements within 6 months — although they may extend the training deadline if they determine an extension is appropriate.
On March 21, Beckham sent an email to the City Council to express his concern with the delays. He told officials that he had not even been offered the opportunity to complete three of the board’s four prerequisites: the board training course, the internal affairs training, and meetings with community groups.
He was then invited to meet with the mayor’s chief of staff to discuss his concerns, and the internal affairs training was scheduled shortly after.
“I obviously think we should have some degree of vetting,” Beckham said. “Right now, what they have is, is kind of crazy, and probably explains why the vast majority of the seats on the board have been vacant for many years.”
What has the board done?
According to the board’s most recently available quarterly report, dated February 2022, the board initiated a review of 15 cases in 2021.
The report also indicates that 34 internal affairs cases were referred to the board’s administrator from October-December 2021. Of these internal affairs cases, 22 were “administratively declined,” the report indicates. Seven of these internal affairs cases were listed as “pending.” The determination on the remaining five cases was left blank.
By comparison, South Salt Lake’s Police Civilian Review Board reviewed 115 police use-of-force cases last year, after they first started seeing cases in July 2022. That board is made up of seven total members — along with two alternates, and one non-voting advisory member — who are all appointed by the South Salt Lake mayor.
The South Salt Lake board reviews all use-of-force cases from South Salt Lake police, whereas the Salt Lake City board only reviews reports of “excessive force” and other discretionary cases. So far this year, the South Salt Lake Board has reviewed 52 cases.
“Our ultimate goal is to be two months behind when the case took place,” Joy Glad, chair of the South Salt Lake review board, said in a statement. “Month one is for internal reviews. Month two is [Civilian Review Board] reviews, discussion, and recommendations. ... In most cases, the two-month lag is not an issue. When a case may arise that is in need of a timelier review, the [Civilian Review Board] can schedule extra meetings to fit the needs of the case.”
The South Salt Lake board’s first official meeting was in March 2022, and its initial meetings were trainings, so case reviews didn’t begin until July. They spent some months trying to catch up, Glad said, and are also working with a new software that South Salt Lake police installed for their reports, so they are behind their two-month lag time goal — but they are getting started on 2023 cases as they come in.
South Salt Lake’s board has not worked with the Salt Lake City board on any cases so far, but the South Salt Lake City Council did seek input from West Valley City’s and Salt Lake City’s review boards before its board was established.
“After researching, it was determined that [the South Salt Lake review board] would be run a bit differently,” Glad said. “The [board] is not an investigatory body. We look at all of the information before us and determine whether or not the case in question is in line with Federal and State Regulations, City Ordinance, and Police Department Policy.”
The South Salt Lake board reviews cases after South Salt Lake police completes its own investigations, but they “don’t wait for the D.A.,” Glad noted. The Police Department then gives the board’s chair “all reports, records, and other documents relevant to the investigation.”
However, there are two caveats to what the chair receives: if a record’s release could be “expected to interfere with investigations undertaken” for enforcement/disciplinary purposes; or if a record’s release could jeopardize the life or safety of an individual and subsequently classified as protected, according to state law.
The board’s chairperson then distributes relevant records to the rest of the board for discussion. The board may ask questions about the case to one or more members of the Police Department “as designated by the chief,” and the board then issues its decision in a report.
In such reports, the board details whether or not they believe a law or policy was violated, and that report is then forwarded to the mayor and City Council.
The board may also make suggestions regarding South Salt Lake police policy to the mayor or City Council, as it has done recently, according to a March 22 annual report to the City Council.
Last year, the board and South Salt Lake police identified a need for improved body cameras for South Salt Lake officers, and the department will soon be onboarding new cameras with longer battery life and a 24-hour recording window for improved footage review.
The most recent “trend or issue” the Salt Lake City Police Civilian Review Board noted in its available quarterly reports was in November 2021, when the board recommended that the deployment of a police K-9 be moved to a higher, “new level” of use-of-force, above less-lethal weapons like Tasers and below deadly force.
Salt Lake City Police suspended its “K9 apprehension program” in 2020, but still uses bloodhound dogs during tracking of individuals and article searches. As such, this is not viewed as a use of force, the department said.