West Valley City, Latino community make plan to improve relations

Published: Wednesday, July 24 2013 12:55 p.m. MDT

In the aftermath of months-long investigations of the embattled West Valley City Police Department, city officials and members of the Latino community are taking steps to repair community relations.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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WEST VALLEY CITY — In the aftermath of months-long scandals in the West Valley City Police Department, city officials and members of the Latino community have taken steps to repair community relations.

City officials and various Latino community stakeholders signed a document Tuesday outlining a plan to improve the relationship between West Valley City and the Latino community, seeking to rebuild city-citizen relationships and restore trust in the police.

Previously this year, 124 state and federal drug cases filed by the West Valley Police Department were dismissed because of credibility issues. That led to an FBI investigation of alleged police corruption, and concerns within the Latino community arose about whether racial profiling had been involved, damaging the relationship between the Latino community and law enforcement.

“We are pleased to have developed this plan with the Latino community to help us improve our relationship not only with them but with the other diverse communities throughout our city,” said West Valley Police Chief Anita Schwemmer. “We appreciate every individual who has worked with us to share their invaluable experience and expertise.”

The signed relationship-repair plan is “the first of its kind for a community in Utah,” according to the city.

Representatives from West Valley City and the Latino groups Proyecto Latino and the Utah Coalition of La Raza collaborated to construct the plan. The signed document outlines the following commitments:

West Valley City will provide "cultural competency training" for all city staff on a department-to-department basis.

The department will utilize the assistance of Utah Coalition of La Raza to review police policies.

West Valley police, Proyecto Latino and Utah Coalition of La Raza will collaborate and hold community meetings that foster community trust, improve open communications and strengthen community relations.

West Valley City commits to fully re-staff the police department to or exceeding 2013 staffing levels of 188 full-time employees. At least nine officers remain on administrative leave pending the results of several investigations.

The police chief will personally handle and resolve all community complaints on supervisory staff of the police department.

The department will provide online access to its Citizen Complaint Form, and will translate the form into Spanish, Vietnamese and other languages as appropriate.

The West Valley City Police Department will provide Utah Coalition of La Raza and Proyecto Latino with data on department race and ethnic staffing demographics, a summary of officer recruitment methods and a breakdown of how many of the 124 dismissed cases involved Latinos.

Proyecto Latino will hold public “Know Your Rights Forum” for Latino community members to help foster a better understanding of law enforcement procedures and to strengthen community trust.

The department will be provided with cultural competency and other training models.

Utah Coalition of La Raza will inform the department of opportunities to further strengthen police and Latino community relations.

“I appreciate having had the opportunity to work with West Valley City in the interest of the community,” Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino said in a prepared statement. “We are very pleased with the outcome.”

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

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