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ACLU of Utah Sends Letter Regarding Salt Lake City’s Proposed Police Civilian Review Board Ordinance

09 September 2001 Published in Local Policy Work

ACLU of Utah express support for the proposed changes to the Police Civilian Review Board, which we believe considerably strengthen our existing model for citizen review of police practices.

To Members of the Salt Lake City Council:

I am writing on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah to express our support for the proposed changes to the Police Civilian Review Board, which we believe considerably strengthen our existing model for citizen review of police practices.

The ACLU has always maintained that effective law enforcement depends upon the trust and cooperation of community residents, and that both are enhanced when citizen review of police activities is possible. We are pleased by the fact that the proposed ordinance contains several elements that are critical to a strong and independent review board, specifically:

1) An investigator who is not an employee of the police department, who has access to all investigations by the police department’s internal affairs unit, and who may request additional investigations, question witnesses, and request that internal affairs representatives interview specific witnesses or collect evidence.

2) A civilian review board that is as diverse – geographically, racially, economically, etc. – as the population it represents.

3) The development of an “early warning system” to identify police officers who have generated large numbers of citizen complaints.

Also, by granting the investigator access to all internal affairs information and by having his or her investigation parallel that of the internal affairs unit, the proposed ordinance has the added benefit of providing the new employee with the opportunity to act as a sort of auditor of the police department’s investigative procedures.

The unique nature of the proposed ordinance does require a few words of warning, however. For a citizen review board to be effective, it is very important that it not only be independent, but that it is understood to be independent as well. Because the investigator’s work must parallel that of the Salt Lake City Police Department’s internal affairs unit, and because no investigation can take place without police representatives being notified, it may be difficult for community members to distinguish between the investigator and the police department. Public outreach and education about the independence of the new investigator will therefore play an especially important role in the success of this particular model.

The potential for confusion is compounded by the fact that no investigation can occur without an individual first contacting the police department’s internal affairs unit. Consequently, it is extremely important that the internal affairs process be as open, accessible, and unintimidating as possible.

Finally, it is our understanding that under the proposed ordinance, the investigator will have the same opportunity to request subpoenas as other city employees. Because any meaningful investigation requires a full analysis of the facts surrounding a complaint, it is particularly important that the city grant the investigator’s requests to compel witness or police testimony.

Despite these cautionary words, we believe that the proposed changes represent positive steps towards an independent review of police practices, and that this review will benefit both Salt Lake City residents and law enforcement officers. Thank you for your consideration of this important matter, and please contact me at 521-9862 ext 100 if you have any questions about our position.

Sincerely,

Carol Gnade
Executive Director