Quantcast

Off-duty conduct of police is sticky issue

Published: Thursday, Dec. 11 2008 1:09 a.m. MST

SANDY — Despite a sweeping new series of guidelines, the level of discipline facing officers involved in misconduct allegations still appears to vary greatly.

During its quarterly meeting here on Wednesday, the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council grappled with how much punishment to hand out. Cases involving 27 officers were brought up.

Vernal Police Chief Gary Jensen defended one of his officers, who admitted having an affair with a married Uintah County sheriff's deputy. Faced with a one-year suspension for the man, Jensen said he's had a tough time hiring officers and needs every one he can get.

"I'd like to bring him back, but I know he has a penance to pay," the chief said. "He knows he's done wrong."

The affair became known, POST reports said, when Vernal police responded to the deputy's home on a report her husband was threatening suicide. The affair happened off duty, both said, and the Vernal officer signed a consent agreement for a one-year suspension.

South Ogden Police Chief Val Shupe suggested they slash the suspension to six months. That sparked a debate among council members about similar situations.

"Should we be in the business of disciplining police officers who engage in adulterous activities off-duty?" Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds asked. "We are held to a higher standard and I don't think we should apologize for it." Officers should be held accountable, but Orem Public Safety Director Mike Larsen asked to what extent, especially when the conduct isn't criminal.

"How far when we're dealing with something that has nothing to do with the workplace?" he said.

The impact to a department or community and a police chief's willingness to speak up for his employee appeared to carry a lot of weight with the council, who agreed to suspend the officer for six months, until March. When the deputy's case came up, there was no one to speak up for her.

"Do we put the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter when we don't treat them the same?" state corrections director Tom Patterson asked the council.

The council voted to give her a one-year suspension.

POST, which certifies and disciplines police officers, has undergone changes in how it disciplines officers within the past year, adopting a "matrix" that spells out punishments for offenses as well as aggravating and mitigating factors.

At the last POST Council meeting, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder asked for more input from police agencies. It is something that POST appears to be sensitive to. Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel showed up to address the cases of three of his deputies — including his undersheriff, who was accused of sexual harassment.

"He's a very good friend of mine," Noel said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, this is the same supervisor who investigated the same allegations against other officers and knew better."

Undersheriff Raymond Goodwin was given a two-year suspension.

Another Beaver County sheriff's deputy received a two-year suspension after being accused of stealing from the "Shop With a Cop" program. A third deputy, accused of domestic violence, faced revocation, but the council voted for a two-year suspension after Noel said the officer was taken off the streets and ordered to undergo alcohol abuse counseling.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS