West Valley mayor presents plan to put police department 'back on track'

Published: Tuesday, April 23 2013 12:35 p.m. MDT

West Valley police officers investigate the officer-involved shooting of Danielle Willard on Nov. 2, 2012. Yet another case investigated by West Valley police has been dismissed in federal court due to credibility concerns, bringing the total number of dismissed cases to 98. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) West Valley police officers investigate the officer-involved shooting of Danielle Willard on Nov. 2, 2012. Yet another case investigated by West Valley police has been dismissed in federal court due to credibility concerns, bringing the total number of dismissed cases to 98. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

WEST VALLEY CITY — Mayor Mike Winder announced a five point plan Tuesday he hopes will get his embattled police department "moving forward."

But as the West Valley mayor was talking about improvements and looking ahead to a promising future, issues with the Neighborhood Narcotics Unit's past continued to haunt the city Tuesday.

For the second day in a row, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah announced the dismissal of yet another case investigated by the drug unit. That brings the total number of dismissed federal cases involving West Valley police to 10 and the total number of both state and federal cases to 98.

In September, Jason Edward Hale was indicted by a grand jury on one count of possession of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. On Monday, a federal judge granted the government's request for the case to be dismissed with prejudice "in the interests of justice," according to the motion.

This week's dismissed federal cases come after Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill dismissed 88 cases due to credibility issues connected to allegations of corruption within the police department.

When asked Tuesday whether the city would consider re-filing some of the cases, City Manager Wayne Pyle said it was a possibility.

The drug unit was disbanded in December following the fatal shooting of an unarmed Danielle Willard, 21, by a pair of undercover drug detectives, Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon. Police say the discovery of evidence from another case in the trunk of Cowley's car raised red flags that led to an internal investigation.

Cowley and Salmon have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. An additional seven officers from the drug unit were placed on leave earlier this month pending the outcomes of several investigations.

Since the issues with the former narcotics unit have come up, West Valley officials have been battling a public image crisis by calling for more transparency within the police department.

On Tuesday, saying that he was "very shocked, disappointed and frustrated" with the problems surrounding the drug unit, Winder announced five steps he hopes will get the police department "back on track."

• Winder wants all impropriety within the department identified and rooted out. He reminded the public Tuesday that every member of the drug unit is now on paid administrative leave and that "individuals will be held accountable for improper actions."

• Stronger independent oversight is needed, he said. Part of that includes strengthening the city's Professional Standards Review Board.

• The mayor wants to learn from other departments. He said the city has commissioned a Special Review Panel, made up of a former district attorney, a retired judge and people with legal and police expertise to make recommendations on how to improve. The names of those committee members have not yet been announced.

As part of learning from other departments, Winder also announced the additional creation of a Police and Public Safety Advancement Task Force with the duty of "examining potential partnerships and collaborations with other law enforcement agencies."

Pyle said that does not mean the City Council is looking at contracting all of its police services through the Unified Police Department, which contracts with several cities in the county. He noted the council is opposed to that option. But Winder acknowledged that he has met with Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who oversees Unified police, and said he has offered to help in any areas needed.

"We brainstormed different ways our organizations can help each other," Winder said. "The majority of our council expressed their desire to retain control of our police services at the end of the day. But yeah, there may be things we partner with other agencies on."

• The search continues for a new police chief. Resumes will be collected through the end of May and a new chief will be sworn in by the summer, Winder said.

• The mayor also reminded the public to look at the big picture. "It is important to remember that the cases being dismissed are related to a single unit, a handful of officers," he said.

Winder noted that violent and property crimes are down in the city thanks to the work of the police department.

At the City Council's Planning Meeting Tuesday afternoon, the council members revisited Pyle's proposed changes to the citizen's review committee and made additional proposed changes. Among the proposals, the council agreed that a member of the police department should remain on the Professional Standards Review Board as an adviser but have no voting power for selecting members.

"(Having an officer on the panel) comes in very handy, in many cases. We like to hear the viewpoint of the police, who have a viewpoint or concept different than what we have," one council member said.

Another council member said officers wouldn't hesitate to call out one of their own, noting that, "Police officers have a lot of integrity, and if they've done something wrong, they will so judge."

Pyle's proposal also calls for more extensive training of the board members. Part of that training included having members go on ride-alongs with an officer at least once a year. That met with mixed reaction from council members. One said it should only be encouraged, not required. Another said the review board members should ride with other departments and not West Valley City to maintain that level of separation.

The proposed changes also call for the board's activities to be more public, keeping with the theme of transparency within the department. The current chairman of the board was at Tuesday's meeting and said the board has always had an open policy.

"We've been putting out reports like that for 20 years. The problem is we didn't know who to give them to," he said.

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