At a recent meeting of the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank questioned whether there was enough review of law enforcement officers’ use of excessive force. “We typically don’t review use of force,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported the police chief as saying. Chief Burbank fired two of his officers alleged to have used excessive force in 2013, he noted at the meeting, although they were not prosecuted.
Utah’s POST Council issues administrative sanctions for law enforcement officers who have been found to violate Utah’s laws regarding police conduct. At the meeting the Council issued nine punishments in the form of license suspensions and revocations, none of which were for use of excessive force. Violations instead included stealing alcohol from a party during off-duty hours, animal cruelty, and theft, among others.
Deputy Director Kelly Sparks indicated that the Council had not received any reports of excessive force cases. Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe, council chairman, determined that the Council would discuss the issue at the March meeting after staff had researched how many excessive force cases were reported to the Council.
Earlier this fall, protestors gathered outside the Capitol building to draw awareness of police abuse, including using lethal action to apprehend suspects. The demonstration was comprised of the friends and family of several suspects killed in separate instances during their attempted arrests.
Excessive force and resisting arrest
Police use force to apprehend suspects every day. What comprises excessive force is uniquely tailored to individual circumstances, however. State law provides that there must be “clear and convincing” evidence that police used excessive force when apprehending a criminal in order to convict the officer of the use of excessive force.
Yet police brutality could mean the difference between a suspect being convicted of resisting arrest and the realization that the officer could have been overly aggressive in the approach or treatment of a law abiding citizen.
There is no doubt a fine line between what force police must use and when that line is crossed into police brutality. People in Utah do have the legal right to be free from excessive force, however, and such rights can be protected in court. People who believe themselves to have suffered from an excessive use of force – rather than resisting arrest – should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their situation.