In the years I've been covering Davis County I've heard periodic rumors and occasional tales of aggressive behavior, if not downright brutality, regarding some members of the Layton Police Department.
I looked into some of these stories but never found anyone willing to go on the record. After a while, I dismissed them as complaints from chronic troublemakers or malcontents.After a personal run-in with Layton's police tactics Wednesday afternoon, I'm now a believer.
While at the scene of the conclusion of a high-speed chase that began with an arrest attempt in Layton, a cameraman from KUTV-TV and I were threatened with arrest, threatened with physical assault, subjected to abusive language, and manhandled.
I had my camera and film confiscated as "evidence" - clearly in violation of the First Amendment - and was threatened several times with immediate arrest if I didn't leave the scene when I attempted to retrieve it. The TV cameraman, O.C. Budge, had two uniformed Layton officers attempt to wrestle his camera away from him, and at one point a Layton officer told him, too, to leave the scene or the officer would, in the officer's words, "rough you up a little."
When I asked two officers for their names or badge numbers, telling them I intended to pursue the matter, one told me to "get your ass out of here before I put the cuffs on you and run you in to jail."
The camera and film were given back two hours later after intervention by the Davis County attorney's office. An undercover narcotics agent with the Davis Metro Narcotics Strike Force made a perfunctory apology later that evening for the seizure, justifying it and the other behavior on the grounds that the squad was under a lot of stress.
I'll grant them that; it was a stressful situation. They had just completed a high-speed chase of a vehicle driven by a man they thought had shot one of their officers and then fled the scene.
As it turned out, the agent was knocked down by the fleeing truck and his own gun went off. He suffered a bruised shoulder and was treated at a local hospital and discharged.
Ah, yes, that gunshot. It was never mentioned in the press release the Layton police drew up afterward. If I hadn't heard about it from another source, it would have gone totally unmentioned, an obvious attempt by the department to coverup an embarrassing situation.
But yes, the officers were operating under stress. And that's what makes their behavior even more frightening.
All police officers operate under varying degrees of stress, and all fear what they thought had happened Wednesday afternoon: One of their own goes down, shot by someone he's trying to arrest.
But it was evident as the events unfolded Wednesday that some Layton officers, and some members of the multiagency, countywide narcotics strike force, were not equipped emotionally to handle the stress.
When the going got tough, instead of staying calm and dealing with a situation coolly and rationally, they lost it. They came unglued, and proper procedures - including the legal niceties on which a conviction can ultimately depend - were also lost.
The officers were also concerned, understandably, that the identity of undercover officers at the scene not be revealed. My editors and I would have had no trouble cooperating on that matter. We routinely work with police agencies on such sensitive things. All it would have taken was some calm discussion and mutual understanding. The officers' aggressive, hostile behavior was simply uncalled for.
The Wednesday incident was apparently not an isolated matter. Since the incident, the Deseret News has received several calls from Lay-ton-area residents with other complaints about police strong-arm tactics. One minority group representative earlier said in an open meeting that some Layton officers have reputations for brutality toward minorities and young people. These are the most vulnerable groups, the ones least likely to know what their rights are or to protest harsh treatment.
The residents of Layton need to examine the policies and procedures of their police department, its standards of training, and the enforcement of its policies.
I suggest that a citizens commission with a membership representing all segments of Layton's population - specifically excluding the police - look into allegations of brutality made over the past three to four years, examine how the department has conducted its internal investigations of such incidents, and scrutinize its training practices and standards.
We're living in the age of multimillion-dollar lawsuits, and if the Layton Police Department keeps up its present actions, it could cost the city dearly.
In the meantime, it might be wise for the police department to invest in a course on stress management.