After a record-tying year of police shootings in Utah, a state lawmaker has brought forward a proposal that could reduce those violent encounters simply by having officers fill out a little additional paperwork.
HB264 would require police officers in Utah to file a report every time they point their guns or a Taser at someone. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City and the bill’s sponsor, said the report has to be filed within two days and reviewed by that officer’s supervisor.
Some Utah departments already do this, and it’s been shown in other states to reduce the number of police shootings — particularly those cases where police believed someone was armed but they were not, called a “threat perception failure.”
Scott Stephenson, who is the director of the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Council, said during a Tuesday committee hearing that in many departments, the only data that’s tracked is when an officer pulls the trigger. Knowing when they pointed a weapon, but did not fire, would be valuable data for police and the public, he said.
“I’m a data person,” he said. “That is an area that is severely lacking. There is some research, a study of Dallas, it actually can reduce threat perception failure. Not saying that would happen as we get more research and data, but if we don’t get it, how will we know?”
The bill had wide support from law enforcement groups across the state during Tuesday’s House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee hearing.
Ian Adams, the executive director of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, said getting the data will benefit the public and the police.
“The act of pointing a weapon at a suspect should be captured in officer reporting,” he said. “This bill will ensure that it is.”
No one publicly opposed the bill, and it was passed unanimously out of the committee.
Several other bills that would address police shootings and the way officers do their jobs also received broad consensus from the committee on Tuesday — including a bill that would create a program to fund technology and equipment purchases that would help the Utah Department of Public Safety investigate fatal police shootings.
Also receiving unanimous approval was a proposal addressing a “loophole” in state law that currently ends an investigation into officer misconduct when the subject of the inquiry leaves the department.
SB13, sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, would help prevent officers “from staying ahead of discipline,” she said Tuesday, “because when they quit, at that moment the investigation stops and the officer can seek employment elsewhere.”
That appears to have happened after former University of Utah police officer Miguel Deras showed off explicit photos of slain track athlete Lauren McCluskey. Concerns about his sharing of her photos arose shortly before he left the department for the Logan Police Department, and the university said at that point that it could not question him or take action if it had wanted to. (Logan police fired Deras after the conduct was confirmed by the state.)
A separate bill related to McCluskey’s death passed through the committee on Tuesday after stalling previously. The proposal from Rep. Andrew Stoddard, HB62, expands the types of misconduct or allegations that could result in an officer’s suspension or revoked certification.
Under the Sandy Democrat’s proposal, the POST council would be able to take action against an officer based on “conduct involving dishonesty or deception” that violated state or federal law or a policy of his or her employer. The council would also be able to revoke a certification or suspend an officer who a court or law enforcement agency found had engaged in “biased or prejudicial conduct against one or more individuals” based on their race, sex, age or other protected status.
Stoddard, a prosecutor, has said he believes these are areas not currently covered by the law that give officers, like Deras, a loophole for poor behavior that’s not explicitly spelled out in state code.
Both his bill and Iwamoto’s now move to the full House for further consideration.