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Police Are 2nd Leading Cause of Homicide In Utah

ABS_policeThe second leading cause of homicides in Utah doesn’t involve gang members, drug dealers or child abusers.

It’s the police.

Since 2010, the state’s police, hired to protect and serve, are second only to intimate partner violence, according to a Salt Lake Tribune review of nearly 300 murders.

The use of excessive and deadly force is a serious public safety concern for law enforcement.

“The numbers reflect that there could be an issue, and it’s going to take a deeper understanding of these shootings,” Chris Gebhardt, a former police lieutenant and sergeant who served in Washington D.C., and in Utah, told The Tribune.

As of October, 45 people were killed by law enforcement since 2010, accounting for 15 percent of the homicides in that time frame, the Tribune reports.

So far this year, 13 people in Utah lost their lives as a result of a police shooting, not including a shooting last Saturday that is currently under investigation.

Despite the alarming amount of police shootings, prosecutors have backed the police and deemed the majority of them to be clean shootings. All but one of the police shootings have been justified by county prosecutors. In the one instance that the shooting wasn’t justified, Danielle Willard was shot by West Valley City police in 2012, and the criminal charges were thrown out.

Police in Utah are trained to respond to deadly threats and are allowed to use “any force available” so long as they can “justify the reasonableness of force used,” according to the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) manual.

Officers like Ian Adams, a West Jordan police officer and spokesman for the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, said that Utah officers actually use less force than is justified.

“Police are trained and expected to react to deadly threats,” he told The Tribune. “The onus is on the person being arrested to stop trying to assault and kill police officers and the innocent public.”

“Why do some in society continue to insist the problem lies with police officers?” Adams asks.

Utah’s violent crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation, according to NBC News. However, FBI statistics found that the state had nearly 630 assaults on police officers, the 10th highest rate in the nation, according to The Tribune’s review.

When it comes to getting justice, the credibility of officers and county prosecutors who work closely together can seem questionable.

“You’ve got a very close relationship between officer, prosecutor and judge in this state,” Gebhardt said. The close relationships expose the investigations of shootings to conflicts of interest, he said.

An investigation of the shooting of 22-year old Darrien Hunt by Saratoga Springs police was criticized after new information was revealed weeks after the Utah County Attorney’s Office decided the shooting was justified. The police said they didn’t know whether or not the officers were wearing body cameras, but an investigation revealed that one of the officers did have the camera and failed to turn it on.

Hunt’s aunt, Cindy Moss, said the family showed a photo of a shot-out windshield that discredits the prosecutor’s report that only one stray bullet was fired into the ground, according to The Tribune.

“There’s inconsistencies through the whole thing,” Moss told The Tribune.

Since the death of Michael Brown in August, use of excessive force by police has risen into the national spotlight. In Utah, the eight police shootings since Brown’s death have some police watchdog groups in Utah interested in a policy that would require shootings to be investigated by agencies aside from the one of the shooting officer.

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