My view: Police must follow their own protocols

By Jane Wittwer

Published: Friday, Nov. 30 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Salt Lake City Chief Chris Burbank talks about a warrant being served to the wrong house Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

On Oct. 4 in Salt Lake City, an elderly woman's home was invaded by gun-wielding police officers who broke down her door while serving a no-knock search warrant. The catch? They had the wrong address.

The whole incident bothered me for two reasons: My initial response was how did these officers get the address wrong in the first place? Police Chief Chris Burbank was quoted to have said, "The police department has protocols to prevent such mistakes, but the officers involved did not follow protocol."

This brings me to my second concern: Why did those officers ignore protocol? It seems to me that there should be a more solid and concrete system of ensuring mistakes like this cannot be made; if the protocol in place is loose enough to be ignored, therein lies the fallacy. There needs to be some way to prevent mistakes like this from happening in the future — perhaps a more rigid standard or specific process, such as a checklist that must be followed or the requirement to double check with a superior who is not directly involved in the case.

The effect incidents like these have on people's attitudes towards the police force cannot be beneficial for the department in gaining funding and cooperation from citizens. Already, many people experience frustration from their interactions with law enforcement, whether their anger is truly warranted or not.

What makes this situation worse and only adds to the irony is that the officers involved broke down the door of the home of a little old woman — someone so unlike their intended target.

Many of the neighbors residing nearby expressed concern and disdain when told of the situation. There has been a drug problem on the street that they were hoping the police could resolve, which is why the police were called in the first place.

In light of this recent mishap, this band of neighbors' faith in the police force has understandably diminished. This I'm sure Burbank knows. What would be a comfort to know for us and those involved is how he and the other officers plan to keep incidents like this from reoccurring in the future, as well as ensure that police officers on the force don't ignore protocol.

How can we as a people be expected to respect and follow the laws of our state if our own law enforcement ignores rules set in place for them as they protect us?

Jane Wittwer is 19 years old and is currently attending Southern Utah University as a freshman. Her intended major is physical therapy. She is originally from Bountiful.

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