Utah police academy calls for more anti-bias training and lessons in fighting with hands, not weapons

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Police observe a protest from across the street on the grounds of the Utah Capitol on Thursday, June 4, 2020.

Utah’s police academy plans to add three more days of training to better teach cadets about implicit bias and how to fight with their hands.

The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council on Wednesday gave the academy’s director, Maj. Scott Stephenson, permission to develop the extra training, which will amount to 30 additional hours of instruction for cadets. The council will need to vote again to approve the new hours once Stephenson provides more specifics of the training.

Cadets wanting to become full-time police officers or sheriffs’ deputies currently undergo 15 weeks of training. Stephenson, during the council’s quarterly meeting, referenced the protests of the recent weeks before explaining his desire for the additional instruction.

He said cadets currently receive one hour of implicit bias training. He wants to boost that to a 12-hour unit that will also discuss building legitimacy in policing. Cadets will learn history of policing in certain communities and how that history has delegitimized the police there.

“The way you treat somebody in the course of doing your job is vital,” Stephenson said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Maj. Scott Stephenson, Peace Officers Standards and Training director, in 2018.

The other 18 hours Stephenson wants to add will be so cadets receive extra practice fighting with their hands. He said the repetition will create “muscle memory” so the future officers know what to do when a suspect resists.

“You’re seeing a lot of videos where officers just panic,” Stephenson said, “because they don’t feel comfortable using their hands, and so they go right for the tool belt.”

That’s a reference to the weapons officers keep on their waist. Some observers have theorized that one reason for so many police shootings is that officers are unwilling to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

In other business Wednesday, the council suspended or revoked the police powers of 11 peace officers. Bobby Rogers wasn’t one of them, though some council members wondered aloud if he should be.

Rogers, who has been in law enforcement for 38 years and currently works for the Unified Police Department, was accused of misusing police databases. On the night in 2019 that Salt Lake City police announced they were serving a search warrant in the case of a missing woman, MacKenzie Lueck, Rogers was on duty in Riverton.

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Police investigators conclude their search a home at 547 N. 1000 West in Salt Lake City as part of the disappearance of University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck, Thursday morning, June 27, 2019.

Even though Rogers had no role in the case, he decided to use the databases to look up the owner of the home where police served the warrant. Rogers argued Wednesday that his query constituted a legitimate law enforcement purpose — a requirement to access the information.

“I am asserting that law enforcement professionals should have access to information on murder suspects,” Rogers told the council.

Some council members contended the issue is not so simple.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich pointed out the Utah Legislature has created laws requiring querying officers to have some role in the investigation. Besides, Rapich said, Salt Lake City police had not yet announced the name of any suspect and might not have wanted any names disseminated.

“We probably did have a [database] violation based on the facts here,” Rapich said.

Another council member, Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel, commended Rogers. Noel noted Rogers was working in the same county where the Lueck case occurred and that there could have been a killer on the loose.

“You may not have followed exactly what the Legislature does,” Noel said, “but as far as I’m concerned, they got it wrong.”

The council voted to issue Rogers a letter of caution. Lueck’s remains were eventually recovered. The homeowner Rogers researched, Ayoola Ajayi, has been charged with aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and abuse or desecration of a human body. He is in jail awaiting trial.

The council also issued discipline to:

• Draper: Suzanne Skirvin, 1½-year suspension for driving under the influence.

• Lehi: Logan Roseman, nine-month suspension for misuse of a police database.

• Unified Police Department: Andrew Vickery, certification revoked for assault.

• Utah Department of Corrections: Derrick Cumbee, three-month suspension for falsifying a government document; K.C. Giles, certification revoked for domestic violence; Todd Tyler Gray, certification revoked for possession of a controlled substance; Jeffrey Hume, two-year suspension for theft and falsification of a government record; Steven Sargent, 1½-year suspension for possession of items prohibited in a correctional facility; Jennings Richmond, two-year suspension for falsifying an application; Morgan York, 1½-year suspension for retail theft.

• Certified but not employed: Ryan Deichmueller, two-year suspension for falsifying an application.