- 2015 Session
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Homicide and the Use of Force
By Mark Madsen, Gene Davis, Howard Stephenson and Jim Dabakis
Utah State Senators
We support a legislative task force to study the appropriate use of force by local law enforcement.
This topic received great attention in recent months, especially in those tragic cases which ended in homicide. The Utah Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee took three hours of testimony during a meeting on January 20th, 2015 to discuss the issue. Among the presenters were Chief Deputy Attorney General Ken Wallentine, and Chief Chris Burbank of the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Millions of interactions between law enforcement and the public take place across our country every day. In the vast majority of these situations, all parties conduct themselves appropriately in their civic roles, and not much additional thought is given to the interaction. There are, however, a relatively small number of interactions where parties fail to live up to that civic standard and great harm—even death—can be the result.
The testimony we heard in committee indicated that in 2014, among all police/public interactions nationwide, death was the result in over 500 instances:
• Last year, 126 law enforcement officers were killed while 410 members of the public (over three times as many) were killed in use of force scenarios;
• In Utah, one officer was killed along with 13 members of the public.
There is understandably reason for concern—even fear—from both law enforcement and the public on the occasions they interact.
The consensus among all who participated in our committee discussion, from every side of the debate, is that no one is satisfied with this status quo. There also seemed to be agreement on potential benefit from “de-escalation” training, which would help develop behaviors designed to prevent minor incidents from becoming violent, or even deadly. And an apparent consensus formed around the observation that confidence in government across the board is eroding, and that we must restore trust in and respect for law enforcement in American society. All parties will be safer as we mend the rift between law enforcement officers and the public for whom they work—a public whose rights law enforcement has sworn to defend and protect and who should hold law enforcement in appropriate esteem.
The motion to establish a task force focusing on “use of force” received unanimous support from the committee. The proposed new task force will be considered along with all task force proposals through the legislative process this session.
In addition to the task force you may also want to track Senator Urquhart’s SB82.
Thanks for paying attention. In a free society, citizens and law enforcement work together and neither one need fear the other. We’ll keep working toward that goal.