In most jobs, when a mistake is made, the worker responsible for it is expected to admit fault and correct the mistake so it isn’t repeated. A review of the situation might shed some light on how to avoid that same mistake again. Being held accountable enables workers to improve and employers to trust their employee’s integrity.

Historically, that approach has not been widely used for one particular job, police officer. The “blue wall of silence” has instead protected officers from public exposure to their mistakes and abuses of power by preventing the public from knowing about it. It wasn’t until video-taped cell-phone recordings became common amongst the public, and body cameras and patrol car cameras became more common in police departments, that the public became aware of these situations. Since the public is the employer of police officers, it seems logical that admitting mistakes and inappropriate or excessive policing practices would improve public perception of integrity among police officers.

Studying police shootings in Utah

The Utah attorney general’s office started, but never finished, a study of police shootings in 2018. The reason? It was too hard to collect data from police departments across the state. It seems that police departments want to compile and review the data, the public wants the data compiled and reviewed, but as of 2021, no state funding has been allocated for data collection and review by legislators in Salt Lake City.

Given that the state government has not allocated funding for an official study of police shootings, Utah residents have had to rely on media reports for information about them. For example, PBS reported that Utah police officers shot at 30 people (all male, from age 13 to 32) in 2018, and killed 19 of them. People were shot in the streets, in cars, in homes—and in the back. Some shooting victims were armed and some were not. Some of the police shootings were righteous and some were not.

What may be unique about Utah’s police shootings is that law enforcement seems less defensive about it and recognizes the need for change. Legislators must allocate funding for the type of review that is needed before significant change can be implemented. 

Utah policing in 2021

A new governor in 2021 could lead to change. Within the Utah Department of Public Safety, the Peace Officer Standards and Training group is responsible for training police cadets and disciplining police officers for mistakes. The new governor’s team has suggested moving the  group to the governor’s Commission of Crime and Juvenile Justice. By the end of 2021, the goal is for Utah to reimagine law enforcement by focusing on police training improvements, discipline, accountability, and involving the public in oversight.

Support for victims 

Victims of police misconduct, police shootings, and police brutality need the help of a legal expert to determine whether they have a case for prosecution of police officers behind the blue wall.

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