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Peace Officer: A Film About How We Don't Have Peace Officers Anymore

16 September 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

“I witnessed my son-in-law killed by the SWAT team I founded.”- former Davis County Sherriff William “Dub” Lawrence.Screen Shot 2015 09 16 at 2.38.52 PM

This blog post was written by Delaney Woodfield, 2015 Fall Intern, Weber State University

In 1974, Dub Lawrence became sheriff of Davis County, Utah. A year into his new position, he launched the department’s first ever SWAT team, his goal to ensure safety for Utah citizens and peace officers. More than 30 years later, in September 2008, he watched helplessly as the SWAT team he created fatally shot his son-in-law.

Convinced the shooting was unjustified, Dub has made it his mission to seek justice by ending the dangerous trend of police militarization. Dub’s industrious advocacy made him the lynchpin of Peace Officer, an award-winning documentary that details the rise of the militarization of American police.

Directed by Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber, Peace Officer has won over 5 awards including South By Southwest’s 2015 Documentary Feature Competition Grand Jury award.

Peace Officer will receive its Utah debut on September 25 at Salt Lake City’s Tower Theater. On October 2, the film will be screened at the Gateway’s Megaplex Theater at 7:30pm. For further information on the movie or showings please visit: peaceofficerfilm.com or saltlakefilmsociety.org.

The term “police militarization” tends to conjure visions of heavily armored cops with assault rifles conducting a midnight raid on an otherwise peaceful home. This dramatic vision isn’t, in actuality, far from the truth at all. Such tactical raids, as well as day-time utilization of military-grade equipment like body armor and armored vehicles, have become common place across the nation.

 As Peace Officer illustrates in painful detail, Utah is no stranger to this method of “peace-keeping”.  In 2012, tactical officers in Ogden, Utah, crashed into the home of Matthew David Stewart a Utah army veteran who suffered from PTSD. During the subsequent crossfire, officer Jared Francom was shot and killed, and five other officers were injured by gunfire. Stewart was arrested, and eventually hung himself in his jail cell before he could be tried for the shooting death of Officer Francom. The raid had been conducted based on reports that Stewart was growing marijuana.

This military-like deployment for a simple drug search caused multiple tragedies that did not need to happen.  The subsequent deaths of a respected law enforcement agent as well as a troubled military veteran dampened the trust that some Utahan’s had in their local police and law enforcement agencies.

Shortly after the Ogden incident - with diligent advocacy by the ACLU of Utah, Libertas Institute, the Stewart family and others - Utah adopted a new law which required the state to release a Law Enforcement Transparency Annual Report. This report, released for the first time in 2015, documents the use of tactical force by law enforcement agencies across the state of Utah in the course of a single year. Utah is currently the only state in the country that gathers and publishes such information.

The report shows that Utah police officers use some of the same kind of weapons and vehicles during drug-related raids that were used during the demonstrations and civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown. With the new law requiring this annual report, we can begin to shed light on the use of police militarization in unnecessary situations.

Peace Officer validates that military weapons create military mindsets. The ACLU of Utah is a strong advocate of Law Enforcement Accountability and our Fourth Amendment rights, which protect people from unreasonable search and seizure. Utah stories play a central role in Peace Officer, making this documentary a must-see if you are concerned or even interested in law enforcement justice.