SALT LAKE CITY — Utah police forced their way into homes and buildings 281 times last year, according to a new state report offering a glimpse of how tactical police teams are used.
The report by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice shows that in addition to the forcible entries, police around the state reported 176 times where SWAT teams, drug task forces or other special police teams were used or they conducted a search without forcing their way in.
Police had a warrant in most every case, and more than 70 percent of the forcible entries and deployments of special police teams involved drug-related crimes. Others involved situations such as bomb threats or reports of robberies.
Only about 3 percent of all incidents involved a suspect who had a weapon, which is troubling, according to Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a Utah libertarian policy group that pushed for the report.
"Police are bringing into those situations a lot of weapons, a lot of hostility, and things can easily go sideways in those circumstances," he said.
Across all incidents, two civilians and seven officers were injured, but no deaths occurred, an improvement from the year earlier when three deaths stemmed from the incidents.
Lawmakers voted in 2014 to require police to start releasing the data to improve transparency, making Utah the only state to release such a report. Maryland did a similar report for a few years but lawmakers stopped requiring it.
Utah law requires police to notify CCJJ if they have nothing to report, but CCJJ says about one quarter of the 149 law enforcement agencies they contacted failed to provide data for the report.
Boyack said a similar number of departments didn't report data last year, with many of them in small towns.
"It's kind of awkward when agencies whose primary duty is to uphold and enforce the law themselves aren't complying with the law," Boyack said.
Police reported 17 percent fewer forced entries than they did a year earlier, which was the first time the data was reported.
Boyack said it's impossible to attribute the drop to anything specific but he believes that requiring law enforcement agencies to report each time they force their way in may have some officers rethinking whether it's always needed.
Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who is president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, did not return a message seeking comment on the report.