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South Salt Lake Creates Civilian Review Board For Police, Activists Say It Lacks Teeth

A photo of a badge outside the the South Salt Lake Police Department.
Emily Means
South Salt Lake will soon have a civilian board to review its police department’s use of force cases.

South Salt Lake’s new civilian review board will assess internal investigations into use of force and can also make recommendations to the mayor on policy.

South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth said he completely supports the measure by the city. He called civilian review boards “the future of law enforcement.”

“Community involvement in what we do is becoming greater, more so than ever,” Carruth said. “For law enforcement leadership, it's just time to embrace that and understand that that's the ask from the community.”

Councilmember Natalie Pinkney said she had initially hoped for something with more authority. She testified during the Utah Legislature’s General Session in support of a failed bill that would have loosened restrictions that currently prevent independent civilian oversight of police departments.

But she said the new group will help strengthen the relationship between the police and community.

“I think it's all great for increased transparency, accountability and trust,” Pinkney said.

But Carly Haldeman with the group Utah Against Police Brutality questioned whether that’s true.

Salt Lake City has had a civilian review board since the early 2000s, but Haldeman said the trust isn’t there yet. Activists and some community members still called for more police accountability last year.

“In a perfect world, the purpose [of the review board] is community empowerment over public safety,” Haldeman said. “It’s communities empowered to determine what public safety looks like and accountability for officers who abuse their authority.”

As it stands, though, Haldeman said review boards are a “cosmetic answer” to calls for police reform.

She used one decision by Salt Lake City’s board as an example. In 2016, it found officers were “not within policy” to shoot 17-year-old Abdi Mohamed. However, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the officers justified and declined to bring charges against them.

“It's the illusion of community empowerment,” Haldeman said. “If [the board is] ruling it unjustified and that board has no power to move further with an investigation or subpoena evidence or prosecute, it really doesn't mean anything.”

She said her group supports elected civilian boards that can conduct their own investigations and discipline officers.

South Salt Lake’s board will have seven voting members who will have been reviewed by an independent selection committee. The mayor will then appoint the members and submit them to the council for approval. One member may have law enforcement experience, though they can’t be a current officer. The application process will be open for the month of September.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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