By Autumn Lorimer
Utah County Sheriff”s Deputies won”t be taking their work home with them as much anymore.
Or at least, that”s the hope the Utah County Commission had when they supported a new on-duty, off-duty policy during Tuesday”s meeting.
The policy defines off-duty and on-duty status for deputies, as well as provides guidelines for behavior when an off-duty officer witnesses a crime, said Enforcement Capt. Doug Witney.
“The whole crux of this directive is to provide guidelines to deputy sheriffs regarding off-duty law enforcement activities, including the use of force and affecting an off-duty arrest,” he said. “Off-duty deputies are often faced with situations involving criminal conduct that they are neither equipped nor prepared to handle in the same manner as if they were on duty. This can lead to unnecessary injuries, and confusion for the on duty deputies.”
The policy does not mention anything concerning hidden cameras and is unrelated to the recent incident involving Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson. Bryson asked a Utah County Sheriff Detective to install county video equipment a year ago in the condominium of his estranged wife, Katherine Bryson.
Bryson and the detective were both cleared of any criminal wrongdoing earlier this week, but commission chairman Steve White said the county would likely ask for an independent investigation into whether county personnel and equipment were used improperly in Katherine Bryson”s home.
In the meantime, White said the Commission and Sheriff”s department are working on a systematic overhaul of several policies.
“We don”t change policy because there”s been one incident,” Witney said. “We”re updating our policies because of four or five incidences when off duty deputies have been involved in things. We”re trying to do the best we can and make sure our policies are current and up to date, and that we”re trained in them, so we can provide the services we”re supposed to for Utah County.”
The new “on-duty, off-duty” policy lists the guidelines for officers.
Witney said an officer is officially off-duty when “he picks up his telephone and calls dispatch and says, ”I am off.””
When they are off-duty, deputies should only become involved in a criminal situation if they are not personally involved in the incident, if there is no other on-duty officer present, if there is an immediate need for the prevention of a crime, and if the crime is large enough that it would require full custodial arrest.
“In training, we liken it to going to somebody else”s house,” Witney said. “I don”t go to someone else”s house and discipline their children for making noise, but if I”m at somebody else”s house and someone comes in with a gun, I”m going to protect them. It”s the same thing. We want to avoid enforcing all minor violations-traffic calls, harassment, nuisance-if the individual is off-duty. We have telephones, we can call the on-duty law enforcement officers.”
White said the Commission felt it important to clearly state in writing the expectations of officers so that there are no gray areas.
“It”s like a goal,” White said. “If you don”t write it down, it”s only a wish. Some things right now are just verbal policies-don”t do this unless you get my permission. Well that doesn”t always work. In times when you have a question, this will clearly delineate the boundaries.”
Witney said half the deputies have already been trained on the policy, and that it will be made effective as soon as the remaining officers have completed training.
Other policies and procedures, including the use of Tasers and the use of force inside prison facilities, will be reviewed during the next six months, White said.