HB361: Third-party investigations in deadly force cases would be new standard

By Stafford Newsome
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of nation-wide controversy involving police shootings, the House law enforcement and criminal justice committee passed a bill that would ensure better transparency and accountability from all Utah law enforcement.

HB361, sponsored by Rep. Marc K. Roberts, R-Santaquin, would make a third-party agency investigation of any officer who uses deadly force it standard protocol. Furthermore, the legislation would require investigations of officers to take precedence over any criminal investigation. In addition, the law would mandate that all findings be shared with any subsequent investigations.

Roberts said in the wake of nationwide outcry related to officer-involved shootings, there are active voices on both sides of the issue including law enforcement agencies who want this law in Utah.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, did not agree with Roberts’ presentation because he felt that the focus should not be on the officer who had to use force, but on the criminal who caused the situation.

In response to Ray’s opposition,Utah County attorney Jeff Buhman agreed that prosecuting criminals should remain a top priority, but he also expressed that thoroughly investigating an officer’s decision to use force is essential.

“The government’s use of deadly force against an individual is something that requires government to look at it very carefully. It is the ultimate act of government to take someone’s life,” Buhman said.

Kelly Atkinson, lobbyist with the Fraternal Order of Police, testified in support of the bill.

He encouraged the committee’s approval because establishing standard protocol that requires an immediate third-party investigation for every officer related shooting ultimately strengthens public confidence in state law enforcement.

The bill had a second reading on March 9 and is currently awaiting assignment by the Senate Rules Committee.

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