Don't vote for my bill.
It's a phrase rarely heard at the Utah Legislature, but that didn't stop Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, during a committee meeting Friday.
At the tail end of a long debate on SB260, Buttars asked his colleagues to vote against his bill that would make private all formal charges and disciplinary actions against a peace officer. Committee members listened and killed the bill in the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee on Friday.
"This isn't what I thought it was," Buttars said. "I really think this is not a good bill, and if you're going to vote on it, I would vote 'no' at this time."
Buttars said he wanted the bill to conceal disciplinary actions if the officer were exonerated. But the bill didn't do that at all. It provided blanket protections for records detailing the misdeeds of police officers.
The majority of Utahns are against such blanket protections, according to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll. In fact, 62 percent of those polled said disciplinary records should be in the public eye.
Just 31 percent said the records should be private. The Dan Jones & Associates poll was conducted Feb. 19-21 and has a margin of error, plus or minus, of 5 percent.
Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said police officers are public employees and therefore subject to public scrutiny.
"If you've got a rogue officer ... I don't care, it doesn't have to be a criminal action, if you've got a rogue officer who is not serving the public in the proper manner and is rude and so on, I want to know that," Hickman said. "I don't want to have some private investigation done by an entity that might be supervising him and have nothing happen."
Public officials at both the state and local level agreed.
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said, "I don't believe that as we balance the need of the society to know about this kind of police officer versus the privacy of the police officer, that you err on the side of closing down information."
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said police officers like any public employee should have a right to privacy while a complaint is being investigated.
"Once the proceeding is completed, I think, and an action has been taken, there is every right and expectation for the public to view those documents," Becker said.
Public watchdogs worried the bill would have allowed police officers to get away with bad behavior."All disciplinary actions which are final and sustained should be open to the public," said Michael O'Brien, an attorney for the Utah Media Coalition, of which the Deseret Morning News is a member.
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