Editor’s note: Capital West reporter Caleb Larkin recently went on a ride along with West Valley Police Sgt. Todd Grey.
SALT LAKE CITY – Body cameras now come standard for West Valley police officers.
West Valley made cameras available for all officers starting in March 2015.
“It’s about time!” said Manny Mares, a West Valley resident.
West Valley responded to committee meeting in January to address issues with law enforcement and community. The committee hoped to “evaluate regulations, policy and local ordinances governing the use of deadly force or other force,” according to Committee Chairman Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.
Police in West Valley also feel the body cameras will improve strained relations with the community. “I don’t think it’s any secret that in the last few years there has been some stress in the department by the public,” Sgt. Todd Grey said.
Grey showed optimism for future relations with the West Valley community. “I think that some things have been set in motion and we have a new police that would like to be more transparent with the public. It’s not so much to hide things; instead it’s more just to tell people more about what is going on.”
Grey explained that in the past the police administration did not talk to the public as much. “There’s nothing to hide. I think the cameras will help do that,” said Grey talking about giving more open information to the public.
Grey also explained the police force operates based on the “21-foot rule.” The “21-foot rule” states that at 21 feet away from a suspect an officer has enough time to discharge a defense mechanism to stop a charging subject.
“We’ll bring the distance down gradually [in training] and you would be very surprised at the results. You can take the most fit, the youngest and most attentive police officer, there is no way he has have time to react at if a suspect is at ten feet,” Grey said.
West Valley residents said they feel police use lethal force too quickly.
Kevin Sisneros, a West Valley resident, said, “When I was younger it seemed like there were a lot more stand offs, now if you make the wrong movement or have something shiny in your hand you just get shot. I don’t feel that’s right at all. They only have better non-lethal weapons now, but more people are being shot, and that’s what I don’t understand.”
Most “less lethal” options give one opportunity to subdue a suspect. Grey explained a taser gives you one shot “and if you miss then what?”
The committee’s mission focused on three major areas: expanding police body camera use and availability, increased training for police officers dealing with armed suspects, and developing public transparency.
“Law enforcement is always going to adapt with time and with society or changes in the law, changes in population,” said Grey. “One thing we try to capitalize on is CIT or Crisis Intervention Training.” CIT focuses on dealing with suspects with mental health issues.
Grey cites dealing with mentally ill persons as one major change the department recently made. “It used to be we’d just take them to jail and be done, but that doesn’t solve the problem,” Grey said.
The West Valley police department continues to change to resident demands, legislation and public safety. Grey described process changes in vehicle pursuits and domestic violence cases.
“Vehicle pursuits were becoming an issue in regards to safety of the public. Back then we used to pursue suspects for minor violation. You’re not going to see that anymore, it’s just not going to happen,” Grey said. Domestic violence procedures changed also in response to public safety needs. “Years ago you used to respond to a family fight by telling the husband to go to the bedroom and the wife to go to another room and just calm down. Domestic violence has gotten so bad that people are dying from it [police not taking action]. Back then we used to have choice, now it’s a mandatory arrest.”
West Valley sees community trust in the police force as essential. It not only keeps citizens safe, it helps the police accomplish their work. “Citizen tips are huge. Without the public it’s tough to do things. We can’t have crystal balls. If we have an influx of criminal activity in a neighborhood, we may have some people to look for, but without the citizens in the neighborhood giving us information about potential criminal activity, it’s difficult to get anywhere,” he said.
However, Grey worries that relations with the younger generation and police are becoming more confrontational. He believes police efforts to correct that through working together with communities and parents will increase public and youth trust in the police force.
West Valley citizens see the changes as positive. “Now when people are claiming their being mistreated now there’s actual proof,” said Mares. Sisneros said, “I think it will cut back on wrong doing on the police department and then justifies the police when they need that.”
Sisneros believes West Valley has generally done a good job in holding officers accountable in their police work. “I think they’ve done a good job [WV PD] because the recent case, West Valley held the officers accountable for what happened. I feel like they do a pretty good job of keeping up their image.”
West Valley hopes these changes will improve community relations with law enforcement.
“I’ve been an officer for almost 22 years. I was skeptical at first, how I would like wearing one [a body camera]. But it doesn’t bother me now. I think it will back up our stories and I think citizen complaints will go down because we’ll have the evidence to back us up,” said Grey. “I think it’s for the better.”