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Police discipline “lenient” in Utah, Auditor finds

SALT LAKE CITY – When it comes to police officer misconduct, state officials say cops in Utah have been getting off easy.  A new report from the Utah State Auditor’s Office shows discipline in this state appears to be lenient.

Auditors looked over eight years of records among a sample of law enforcement agencies in Utah and compared them to disciplinary records of officers in states like Arizona, Oregon, Kansas, Idaho and Montana.  They searched through cases of domestic violence, driving under the influence, use of illegal drugs and officers having sex while on the job.

For instance, in the case of domestic violence, Auditor John Dougall says 89 percent of officers had their certifications revoked in other states, but, that didn’t happen here.

“In Utah, we didn’t see any revocation.  We actually saw 100 percent of those cases were somewhere between a one and three-year suspension.  So, we did look lenient there,” Dougall says.  He adds, “Illegal drug use… this is where 18 percent of police officer certification was revoked in Utah versus 100 percent in those other states.”

Also, Dougall says not every case of misconduct had been reported to Police Officer Standards and Training, as required by law.

“We took a sample of police departments, and three of them had cases that should have been reported, from our perspective, that were not.  It’s important that those cases are reported because that way POST can take action on that,” Dougall says.

He also suggests background information about an officer’s past disciplinary actions should be more accessible than it is now.  Currently, when an officer wants to transfer from one agency to another, the department can see if that person has been disciplined, but they can’t see why.

However, officials from POST say they disagree with the findings.  Director Scott Stephenson tells the Deseret News that the definition of “revocation” changes from one state to another.  He says, in some places, that word simply means an officer is suspended for five years.  In Utah, that person can never be an officer again.

Stephenson also says law enforcement can look into a person’s conduct when they’re not on duty, while agencies in other states can’t.