Police oversight advocates are calling on Gov. Gary Herbert to veto a bill that would limit powers of citizen review boards.
The measure, passed in the final hours of the legislative session last week, would prohibit any citizen police review board from having direct power over a city’s police chief or department.
“What we’re having is anti-law enforcement activist groups trying to take over these community councils and be negative towards the police department,” Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said of the bill.
Ipson, who was the bill’s Senate sponsor, called it a “preemptive” measure.
Recently, Utah Against Police Brutality has been pushing for an elected police review board in Salt Lake City. Dave Newlin, an organizer with the group, says that would give more than just review and recommendation powers to the current civilian review commission.
“If anybody is going to have the highest possible standards, it should be police officers,” Newlin said. “These are government officials that are walking around with guns strapped to their hip.”
Currently, the capital city’s Civilian Police Review Board can conduct independent investigations into police use of force and other complaints. But the 14-member board’s power is limited to providing recommendations to the city and police chief.
“All we really want is a review board that has more than just review powers. If they make a recommendation, that should be enforced,” Newlin said.
The group’s call comes after increasing public awareness of controversial police shootings. At least 14 people were shot and killed by law enforcement in 2018.
In November 2018, police shot 30-year-old Cody Belgard in the back, killing him. Police can reportedly be heard on body camera footage shouting that Belgard had a gun, but later said they found no gun at the scene.
Police also shot and killed 50-year-old Patrick Harmon in August 2017. Harmon first fled from officers, then turned toward them with a knife.
Gov. Herbert has until April 3 to sign or veto the more than 500 bills lawmakers passed in their general session, which ended last Thursday.