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South Salt Lake Journal

Civilian Review Board reviewed 101 use of force incidents by SSL police

May 08, 2023 02:39PM ● By Zak Sonntag

South Salt Lake’s Civilian Review Board, an independent commission created in 2022 to provide additional transparency and accountability of the South Salt Lake Police Department, issued its first report. (File photo Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

South Salt Lake’s Civilian Review Board, an independent commission created in 2022 to provide additional transparency and accountability of the South Salt Lake Police Department, issued its first report, offering a civilian perspective on over 100 incidents of the use of force by the city’s police officers. 

The report makes recommendations for improved policing, including its advisement that the department procure new body cameras and institute improved civilian complaint procedures—while also commending officers for their use of de-escalation tactics. 

“Not always does de-escalation work, but at least officers took the time and space to do that,” said Jason Keffer, vice chair of the CRB, who presented the report during a March South Salt Lake City Council meeting.

The CRB is part of a national movement for increased civilian oversight of law enforcement that gained traction in recent years in response to disturbing examples of police misconduct at departments around the country—most notoriously an incident in May 2020 in which a Minneapolis man named George Floyd was murdered by police, setting off nationwide protests, including in cities like SSL. 

The council responded to local protests by instituting the CRB, an independent seven-member board charged to enhance accountability and increase trust of law enforcement in the city.

The CRB’s first major report reiterated that body’s earlier findings on the death of Jebb Muir, a SSL resident killed by police officers during a use of force incident on Sept. 26, 2022.

Muir, 44, was “suffering with psychosis, suicidal ideation, and had previously barricaded himself in a house and prepared firearms during an encounter with police leading up to the fatal incident,” according to investigations from South Salt Lake Police Department Internal Affairs and Salt Lake County Officer Involved Critical Incident Response Team.

After reviewing the relevant evidence, including bodycam video and 911 recordings, the CRB concurred with those findings and said the use of force by officers was reasonable. 

The September 2022 incident was one of 101 use-of-force incidents by SSL police officers reviewed by the CRB. The board reviewed the written report on all 101 use-of-force cases, and reviewed body-cam footage for 82 of those incidents. They concluded that zero incidents where out of compliance with state statute or city policy.

The report offers a readout of the different modalities of force utilized by officers: Tasers were drawn in 12% of incidents, and discharged in around half of those incidents; around 5% of the incidents resulted in the use of pepper spray; around 2% saw the release of K9s; firearm was displayed in 33.3% of incidents.

The report also offers a demographic snapshot of use of force encounters in SSL: It shows the overwhelming majority of incidents involve males; 64% of incidents involved white civilians; 22% Hispanic; 8% Black; and less than 3% were Native American or other. 

However, the review board notes that demographic distinctions are estimates, because verification mechanisms are not scientific. In fact, Keffer told the council that when determining demographic profiles “in some cases it is a best guess by the officers.”

The report also shows that arrest control techniques, which entail non-lethal physical tactics like martial arts, where used in 39.5% of incidents.

Toward the end of smart enforcement policy, the CRB commended the council for its recent creation of the Homeless Resource Officer program, and its decision to hire a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in partnership with the Department of Justice to help respond to calls involving mental illness, an issue whose implications in law enforcement are of growing concern, the CRB explained. 

“Homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness are significant causes of police intervention in South Salt Lake, and as a result are amongst the leading factors in police use of force,” the report states.

The board also commended the SSL Police Department for its implementation of a new training method for physical confrontations, which elevates arrest control techniques, including “Gracie Survival Tactics” informed by Brazilian ju jitsu. λ