Utah police reform bills are inching along, but one 'tame' bill has already stalled

A Lindon police officer is pictured on Thursday, Oct.
29, 2020.

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A handful of police reform bills are inching their way through the Utah Legislature, but at least one — even though its sponsor argued it was a relatively "tame" attempt to hold officers more accountable — has already hit a roadblock.

Two of Rep. Angela Romero's police reform bills cleared their first legislative hurdles on Monday by winning unanimous approval from the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. But one of Rep. Andrew Stoddard's bills faltered on a split vote and failed to advance.

Romero, D-Salt Lake City, won support for HB162, which would require 16 of the 40 hours of training police officers are required to complete each year to be focused on de-escalation tactics and working with individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. She also won the committee's approval for HB84, which would require local law enforcement agencies to collect and submit data on use-of-force-incidents to the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a state and federal database.

Both of Romero's bills cleared the committee without much debate, lauded as common sense approaches aimed at improving police officer relationships and trust with the community. Both were drafted as what Romero called "compromises" between law enforcement organizations and civilian groups that demanded change after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year. They now go to the full House for consideration.

But Stoddard's HB62, which would add "conduct involving dishonesty or deception or violation of employer's use-of-force policy" as additional grounds for suspension or revocation of a police officer's certification, stalled on a 5-5 vote.

That's even though Stoddard's bill had the support of the Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Committee, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office and the Utah League of Cities and Towns. It wasn't verbally opposed in Monday's hearing except for one lawmaker who expressed concerns about Utah's Peace Officer Standards and Training council investigating use of force actions that may be considered criminal in one jurisdiction, but acceptable in another.

"My concern is that at one agency, a violation may have occurred, and (at) another agency the same officer under similar circumstances, a violation wouldn't have occurred," Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, said. "Is that something we want to subject POST to investigating or am I just interpreting that incorrectly?"

Gwynn also took issue with the bill allowing the Police Officer Standards and Training council to investigate an officer who is the subject of allegations any police agency deems "credible," regardless of whether that officer leaves to work at a different agency and an internal investigation therefore ends.


That portion of the bill was based in part from the situation of a former University of Utah police officer who showed explicit photos of slain student Lauren McCluskey to other officers, according to an independent investigation. The officer left the university before the internal affairs investigation completed and was later hired at the Logan Police Department.

Gwynn said expanding POST's ability to investigate any "credible allegation" rather than allegations stemming from internal or administrative investigations was "very subjective and overly broad."

Stoddard said the POST council would have the ability to vet its own investigations, and he trusted the council with being able to investigate incidents depending on their jurisdictions and those jurisdictions' policies.

But half of the lawmakers on the House committee still decided they didn't like Stoddard's bill. Four voted with Gwynn to oppose it, and so it failed to advance.

Stoddard told the Deseret News in an interview he was "surprised" his bill faltered given the amount of time he'd spent on the bill since last year and the level of support it had garnered from different stakeholders.

"I'm not really sure" why it failed, Stoddard said. "In terms of police reform, this was a very tame bill. I'd worked with defense attorneys, law enforcement, prosecutors, lots of people, and it had their support and buy in, so I'm not really sure what the hangup was."

Dozens of other police reform bills have been filed but have yet to be considered by legislators. Another that was filed last week but has not yet been heard in committee would restrict "no-knock" warrants — a tactic that's been under sharp scrutiny after the death of Breonna Taylor during a botched raid on her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky.

Stoddard said he hopes the trouble his "pretty tame" bill ran into doesn't "set the tone for the rest of the police reform bills."

"In speaking with the public, this is something that they want," Stoddard said of police reform. "I've had constituents get really excited about this bill, and especially for minority communities, our marginalized communities, this is something that's really important to them, and I hope it's not an issue that goes away."

Stoddard said he'll try to work with lawmakers on the House committee to give the bill another chance.

"It's hard to see that much work go into it and then it fail like that," Stoddard said. "I understand it's a process ... but hopefully we can work to clear up some of the misconceptions or issues they might have."

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Katie McKellar


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