SALT LAKE CITY – Advocates of police reform in the Utah Legislature will find little support among Cache Valley lawmakers.
“Our law enforcement leaders admit that we could probably do a better job of teaching their officers what some policies mean and ensuring better compliance with those policies,” Rep. Dan Johnson said during a virtual town hall Thursday, after spending several hours discussing police reform issues with Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen and Cache County Sherriff Chad Jensen. “But they don’t believe that we need new policies or new laws.”
“I’m really having a really hard time with this latest (police reform) push we’ve seen,” Rep. Casey Snider added, referring to recent nationwide demands to prosecute officers and defund police departments.
“We’re beginning to call evil good and good evil,” Snider said. “Part of our job in the Legislature, when some of these policy pushes come — largely from Salt Lake City Democrats — should be to push back and tell the stories that we see in our communities.
“We have to say that we’re proud of law enforcement, that we’re proud of law and order and that we support our men and women in blue.“
The roots of the law enforcement reform movement in Utah can be traced back to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota in the early summer of 2020. In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, Utah lawmakers enacted a ban of the use of chokeholds by police during a special session at the state Capitol.
Recent police reform proposals from the Legislature’s more liberal members include mandating de-escalation training, the creation of community oversight boards, the mandatory use of body cameras and strict limitations on the use of force by police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
Those proposals and others are included in a flurry of bills now pending before the Legislature.
During Thursday’s online town hall meeting, Cache County GOP chair Chris Booth listed some of those draft measures as House Bills 13, 59, 62, 74 and 133.
Other similar proposals have bipartisan support in the heavily GOP Legislature. Those include HB 162, by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake, that would require 16 hours of annual training in crisis de-escalation techniques; HB 84, that would require law enforcement agencies to collect and publish data on use-of-force incidents; and HB 154, by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, that would require an officer observing another officer violating use-of-force procedures to intervene.
Snider, meanwhile, has introduced HB 66, a proposal that would actually enhance the authority of county sheriffs. In response to concerns that deputies were ordered to stand down in the face of rioting in Salt Lake City last summer, Snider’s proposal would clarify that a county sheriff is the “primary law enforcement authority” when county and municipal leaders disagree on law enforcement strategy.
“We don’t need this sudden push to crack down on what is already a significantly hard job,” Snider said, referring to that flood of legislative proposals. “We’ve got good sheriff’s deputies and police officers in our communities.”
“There is already immense oversight over sheriffs and police departments,” Johnson added. “So we’ve got to be really careful what we’re treading on here, because I’m very worried about recruitment and retention of good people into these first responder type of jobs, like being a police officer, a highway patrolman or a sheriff’s deputy.”