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Activists want more autonomy for the civilian board tasked with reviewing the Salt Lake City Police Department's actions.
The 14-member group, called the Police Civilian Review Board, was created in the early 2000s to be a transparent and independent finder of facts. But at a panel Saturday at the downtown library, activists called for members of the public to tell the current city council about how the review board could be improved.
The council meets Tuesday for a work session on police policies, lethal force statistics and officer training, followed by an opportunity for public comment at 7 p.m.
"We're a progressive place and I think we can lay the groundwork for a kind of civilian review board that is cutting edge in terms of being progressive and accountable to the community," said panelist Deeda Seed, a former city councilwoman. "It will probably look like baby steps on Tuesday. But at least the conversation is started."
One of the questions that council members will tackle Tuesday is whether the city should "explore alternative models" for ensuring transparency and accountability when police use lethal force, including how that might pertain to the review board.
Seed questioned how the board operates, including whether they are doing what others tell them, such as a situation in which the city attorney tells them, "'This is what I recommend.' And if you're not an attorney and you're a citizen volunteer, are you going to be really feel strong enough to say, 'Wait a second, that doesn't sound right to me?'"
Greg Lucero, a member of the advocacy group Utah Against Police Brutality, echoed Seed's concern that the city attorney advises the board. He also thinks the board should have elected members; right now, anyone can apply for a position, and the mayor appoints people from that pool.
Lucero also thinks the board should have the power to discipline officers. However, state law only allows an agency's senior officer to do that.
Lucero also said the board should be able to set guidelines and fully investigate incidents, including the ability to subpoena people.
However, the board's full-time investigator, retired FBI agent Rick Rasmussen, in a report prepared for the city council, said the power to subpoena is "unnecessary because in the past decade the SLCPD has always produced every type of record or evidence that he has sought."
Among its current powers, the board investigates all misconduct and excessive force complaints. The investigator has access to all internal affairs information and can interview complainants, witnesses or officers independently of internal affairs. The staff report adds that the board has a "close, positive working relationship with IA, with which it does side-by-side investigations."
However, Seed said Saturday that the two investigations are not separate enough.
The board has been improved since its creation in 2001, when it didn't use to have independent investigative power, Seed pointed out. As a remedy, former Mayor Rocky Anderson gave the board an independent investigator.
The city council's Tuesday meeting was spurred by the deaths of Dillon Taylor in 2014 and James Barker in 2015, both of which the Salt Lake County District Attorney deemed justified, as well as heightened scrutiny of police forces nationwide.