Tony Yapias, coordinator of Proyecto Latino de Utah, and acting Police Chief Anita Schwemmer both said the meeting, which was mediated by a Department of Justice representative, was a good first step in rebuilding trust.
The West Valley City Police Department is the subject of local, state and federal probes involving allegations of corruption and evidence mishandling by the department's narcotics unit. The allegations have resulted in 124 cases being dismissed by state and federal prosecutors and nine members of the now-disbanded Neighborhood Narcotics Unit being put on leave.
In addition, investigators also are looking into the fatal shooting by unit officers in November of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during an alleged drug bust.
Yapias and Archie Archu-leta, president of the board of directors of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, had requested a meeting with police officials because the majority of defendants in the dismissed cases were Latino. Schwemmer said Wednesday that because the ingredients to make illegal drugs are more difficult to get in the United States, drug production has shifted to Latin American countries, leading to more Latinos being involved in the narcotics trade.
"It all has to do with economics, not race," she said.
Yapias said the explanation has allayed his concerns about profiling and that the meeting was "very constructive." He also said translation of the online complaint form will help community members report problems with the police.
Eleven people attended Wednesday's meeting, including Sen. Luz Robles, Rep. Angela Romero and West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle.