POLICE

Utah police reform, one year after the death of George Floyd: activists seek more

May 25, 2021, 6:21 PM
George Floyd one year later lee police reform...
(The portraits of George Floyd, Bernardo Palacios and Darrien Hunt, who were all killed by police, painted on the walls of a building near 300 West and 800 South in Salt Lake City. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(The portraits of George Floyd, Bernardo Palacios and Darrien Hunt, who were all killed by police, painted on the walls of a building near 300 West and 800 South in Salt Lake City. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd, which sparked debates about police reform all over the country.  In Utah, some community advocates said positive changes have been made. 

However, they believe sweeping Utah police reform is still needed.

On one hand, officials with Black Lives Matter Utah (BLM Utah) are pleased with the Salt Lake City Police Department for bringing in specialized rifles that fire less-lethal rounds which can subdue someone without causing severe injury. 

On the other hand, they believe other steps taken by lawmakers were really just for show.  Chapter President Lex Scott says H.B 5007 prohibited police from using chokeholds, but law enforcement agencies already banned their use. 

One thing they still want is local oversight of police use-of-force cases.  Scott said they don’t want police investigating police misconduct.

“They didn’t give them to us in the legislature, so we’re going to gather signatures for a ballot initiative,” she said.

Utah police reform would benefit from national reforms

Another thing BLM Utah supports is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.  Scott says that would provide the kind of sweeping reform that’s needed across the country.

“It gives us a nationwide police misconduct database,” Scott said.  “It regulates data collection, body-cam footage legislation, and dash-cam footage legislation.”

BLM Utah is also pushing for the end of “qualified immunity,” which protects police agencies from lawsuits in use-of-force cases. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) says Congress should do a better job of defining qualified immunity since the current statute leaves that definition up to the courts.

“I think police officers could benefit from it, and so could advocates for those who have suffered as a result of police misconduct,” Lee told KSL Newsradio’s Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson.

However, he says police reform is a tricky and delicate balance.  Sen. Lee said that if the federal government makes too many regulations, it could interfere with the good work being done on local levels.

“They get less accountable to those they serve,” Sen. Lee said. ” That, in turn, translates to higher rates of crime.”

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Utah police reform, one year after the death of George Floyd: activists seek more