Thursday, February 14, 2008

Secret Police (Update)

[Legislature] Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker wants some police discipline records to stay public.

A bill introduced in Utah’s Legislature would let cities stamp “private” on all records of disciplinary action brought against police officers (
like these posted on our Webpage). Becker says he likes the bill in concept, but, as written, it appears to go too far.

“The language apparently doesn’t reflect my understanding of what the intent was,” Becker says of Senate Bill 260, which is backed by police chiefs and Salt Lake City's police union.

“The intent is to try to protect an employee’s privacy and due process. That I favor. But I also favor—I think it’s really important—the public having access to information about the actions of the city.”

In Becker’s opinion, disciplinary records of police officers should be kept private during the disciplinary process and during an officer's appeal. But when the city takes action resulting from a disciplinary proceeding, the Mayor says, “the results of that action should be available to the public.”

That is pretty much how Utah’s law already works. Under current public records law, documents about police discipline are released only after time has expired on an officer’s chances to appeal.

Becker said his administration did not write SB 260. The idea of changing public records law was presented to his staff late last year, he said. (
A chief Becker staffer appears to have worked toward the change.) But Becker says the idea was presented to his people as “a cleanup bill” to bring city procedures in line with those used by the county.

Maybe so. It turns out discipline records about county Sheriff’s deputies are secret. (Ted McDonough)

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