SSL seeks to be a model city with proposed citizen review board
Aug 03, 2020 11:50AM
By Bill Hardesty
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
Showing a real commitment to change, the South Salt Lake City administration and City Council continue their work on creating a Citizen Review Board.
“I am supportive of South Salt Lake creating a Citizen Review Board to assist in this effort, similar to other communities in the area. My goal is to ensure that every South Salt Lake policy is reviewed through a community-based lens of diversity and inclusion. We will implement necessary changes to community action surrounding systemic issues of racial, gender and other inequality and bias,” Mayor Cherie Wood said on June 3.
She continued, “We have no tolerance for racial or any other injustice in South Salt Lake. Everyone deserves to feel safe no matter the color of your skin, your gender or identity. Our work will not be finished until we all feel safe.”
In a June 15 press release, City Council Chair Sharla Bynum and members at-large Natalie Pinkney and Ray de Wolfe stated, “We believe there is a solution, it comes from local conversation, listening and hard work. We have a history of providing a voice and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. We plan to establish a Citizen Review Board to create oversight and add a communal component to our police policies.”
Creating a board
South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth introduced the subject at the July 8 work meeting by suggesting the SSL board be modeled after the West Valley City’s Professional Standards Review Board. He also mentioned that this effort needs to be more than starting a new program like other community outreach programs like coffee with a cop or bowl with a cop.
The WVC board was established in 2013. The board is composed of a minimum of five residents. WVC employees are not allowed to be voting members of the board.
The WVC board reviews all use of force by WVC police department, all vehicular pursuits, and all internal affairs investigations of police officers.
The WVC board meets at least monthly. At the beginning of their meeting, they have a public comment period. Afterward, they meet in a closed-door meeting to discuss specific matters.
After Carruth, city attorney Hannah Vickery led a discussion for the council. She asked the council if they wanted to take the lead or be reactionary by waiting for state or federal mandates.
The council voiced their desire to take the lead by creating a Citizen Review Board. However, they don’t want to rush the effort.
“Let’s be a model city. Let’s be the city that starts this and does it right. This is going to be a thoughtful process. We are not going to whip something out tonight. We are going to be very thoughtful,” Bynum said.
Later Bynum added, “Being thoughtful means we listen to residents, business owners and our police officers throughout this process while balancing the limitations allowed by state and federal law.”
Vickery voiced an opinion that the board is subject to the Utah Open Meeting Law, which could cause issues when dealing with individual HR type issues in a public forum.
Another issue is what is the scope of the board and more importantly, what is allowed and not allowed according to state law.
Pinkney pointed out that the most common request for this board to do is to review resident complaints. However, a reading of HB415 might imply that having a committee do so might be illegal.
“My concern is that we will be creating a board that does what Salt Lake City’s board does, which is really is not much.…The citizens want a review board that has some power,” Pinkney said.
Other councilmembers agreed that the board must have power to be meaningful.
Councilmember Shane Siwik, District 5, asked Carruth what the resident citizen complaint process is.
Carruth explained that residents have a variety of methods to make a complaint. Once it is received, the complaint goes to the officer’s direct sergeant. The sergeant investigates and makes a recommendation. The recommendation is sent to a lieutenant for approval. If the recommendation is approved, it goes to the deputy chief. If the deputy chief approves it, it goes to Carruth for final approval.
Any time during the process, if a review does not approve the recommendation, the action is sent down the chain of command for further investigation.
Off the top of his head, Carruth said the department receives about 10-15 complaints a month with three to five involving any type of discipline.
Because more discussion was needed between the administration and the council, a plan was developed to work in small group discussions to hammer out the specifics. Those meetings started in late June. After which, Vickery will draft an ordinance for public comment and city council discussion.
During the regular City Council meeting on July 8, residents voiced support for the review board.
Jason, a new SSL resident who didn’t give his last name, said he would like the city to lead out and make the board meaningful. He also voiced the importance of making it easy and transparent.