Salt Lake City, UT – Utah state legislators dealt a blow to anti-police activists with the passage of legislation on March 14 that seriously limited the power and authority of newly-created civilian review groups.
House Bill 415 was passed on the last day of the legislative session, and the Senate version has already been approved, which means the bill goes to Utah Governor Gary Herbert to be signed into law, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The bill prohibits municipalities from granting police oversight committees the power to discipline officers.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the legislation “also stops a municipality from creating an entity with authority independent of the police chief that can, among other things, overrule a hiring or appointment proposal; review or approve a police department’s rules, regulations, policies or procedures in order for them to take effect; or veto a new policy or strike down an old one.”
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Utah State Senator Don Ipson, said the purpose of the legislation was to “give clarity.”
“What we’re having is anti-law enforcement activist groups trying to take over these community councils and be negative towards the police department,” Ipson told his colleagues in the state house, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The introduction of the legislation was a pro-active response to anti-police activists who have been lobbying various cities to increase the power of their citizen oversight organizations.
It served as a response to Utah Against Police Brutality’s 2018 proposal to the Salt Lake City Council pushing them to consider making their oversight board into a seven-member, democratically-elected board with the power to veto the police chief.
The anti-law enforcement organization also wanted citizen review committees to have the power to make and rescind police policies, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“There isn’t a problem now, but we feel like there is one coming if we don’t do this,” Ipson explained.
The Utah Against Police Brutality proposal also included requiring video of any incident under investigation to be posted within 48 hours (with a few exceptions), and they wanted the final authority over who the police chief hires, fires, or disciplines.
The legislation would still allow civilian review boards with authority independent of the police chief as long as the panel is appointed by the municipality and under its direct oversight, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The Utah Chiefs of Police Association (UCPA) supported the legislation and argued it helped preserve an “already-established balance” needed for police accountability.
“It’s always interesting to me this argument that if we just put a different group of people in [a committee], they’ll come up with a different outcome,” UCPA Spokesman and Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross told a House committee. “Yet over and over again as I’ve watched review boards come in and advisory boards and once they see both sides and they have to weigh both sides, it’s amazing how much they come to the middle area, which is really where law enforcement is operating from now.”
The legislation will not affect civilian review boards that already exist and have some of the powers that are prohibited under the new law, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, whose own department was the jumping off point for the Utah Against Police Brutality proposal, has said that there are already processes in place to hold officers accountable in his department.
Chief Brown pointed out that all critical incidents already received independent investigations by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
Utah Against Police Brutality organizer Dave Newlin vowed his organization would not give up and said he planned to lobby the Utah governor.
“We’re definitely not going to stop fighting for police accountability,” Newlin told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We’re going to look at every option available to us — up to and including trying to get this repealed. That’s a long and difficult process, but it’s possible.”