Families of people shot by police call for accountability, more training
An investigation determined that detective Joe Sutera, who was working on the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team when he shot and killed Simons while she tried to flee from police, was legally justified in shooting Simons. "(Sutera) had a reasonable basis to believe that deadly force was necessary to defeat Simons' escape from arrest," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said last week.
An investigation into Willard's shooting is still under way. West Valley Deputy Police Chief Mike Powell said Monday there was no additional information available about the Willard case and no deadline for its conclusion.
"It's impossible to have a standard time frame," Powell said. "Our focus is in conducting thorough investigations."
Gill said he agrees that such investigations are complex, but they still need to move forward.
"Of course we want them to do a thorough investigation, but at the same time, we want them to finish," said Gill, whose office is working in conjunction with West Valley City police. "It's a complicated and complex issue. I understand and respect that."
Kennedy said she considers her daughter's death to be a murder, and she wants the officers responsible to be charged. However, she does not even know the name of the officer who shot Willard.
Gill said the answer to reducing such incidents lies in more effective training and response to police shootings, not in reducing the power of the police force. Because of this, his office has taken efforts to meet the demands of the public.
"If our commitment is to safety," he said, "and if our commitment is to the safety of our citizens as well as officers, then we need to put our money where our mouth is."
Gill said his office has paid for improved training for police officers in Salt Lake County. The goal is to train about 300 officers per year, which so far has been met, he said.
Because police work in a dangerous and unpredictable environment, Gill said it is impossible for them to avoid using lethal force entirely. However, he believes they can and should use it more judiciously — something he hopes can be addressed by the training.
"The more information they have — knowledge is power — the more safe they can keep themselves so they don't have to put themselves in a situation where they have to use lethal force," Gill said.
In addition to that training, the district attorney's office is in the process of making improved simulator training available. Instead of the usual focus on shoot or don't shoot, the training aims to teach officers about threat assessment.
Finally, Gill aims to create an objective task force made up of officers from various police departments throughout Salt Lake County to respond to officer shootings.
"You want the use of force to be used specifically in those conditions where it is right and justified," Gill said.
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