This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When it happened in Los Angeles and Chicago, it became the stuff of legend, books and movies. But even a city the size of Utah's West Valley is not immune from police corruption.
The scale of what has been acknowledged by the West Valley City Police Department in its narcotics unit is damaging to the city's image and dangerous to its residents. It may not be possible for the department to restore trust.
West Valley residents aren't getting the law enforcement they deserve. City officials should be looking at how best to provide that service, and joining the Salt Lake County Unified Police Department may be the best answer. If Mayor Mike Winder and the City Council reject that option, they should get busy finding a new police chief from outside the department who is capable of directing a complete overhaul.
City leaders are not properly overseeing law enforcement. The current citizen review board is a failure.
More revelations continue to erode confidence in West Valley's ability to fix its problems. The city manager last week described an incredible level of misconduct and incompetence among officers of the city's disbanded narcotics unit. The detectives' shoddy work has led the Salt Lake County district attorney to dismiss 88 cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office to throw out eight federal cases and the FBI and DA to investigate. And, so far, no one in city government is acknowledging the seriousness of the negligence.
Former Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, who resigned after disbanding the narcotics unit in December, called the infractions found by an internal audit "minor." However, it's doubtful that taxpayers who were paying his salary would say the same.
Going back two years, the audit found mishandling of evidence, officers keeping "trophies" from investigations and failing to get warrants before using GPS tracking devices to track suspects. They improperly used confidential informants, some of them illegal immigrants; cash and drugs are missing. Detective Shaun Cowley, who, with another detective, shot and killed an unarmed suspect in November, kept evidence in the truck of his car, apparently for months.
The department has still not explained or justified the fatal shooting of Danielle Willard nor the unsolved disappearance of Susan Powell four years ago that ultimately led to the suicide of her husband and murder of their two sons.
West Valley City is not L.A. or Chicago, but there is always opportunity for corruption, especially in the investigation of drug cases. West Valley should take its law enforcement responsibility more seriously or get out of the business.