SALT LAKE CITY — The polygamous town of Hildale would be forced to close down its police department if half its officers were to lose their certification under a bill initiated in the Utah Legislature on Monday.
At the request of the Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he opened a bill file that would allow a county sheriff's office to take over law enforcement if majority of a department's officers were decertified.
"It's a real problem in the polygamous communities," Bramble said. "Anecdotally, there are stories of police whose allegiance is to something other than the Constitution and the laws of the state and have been apprehending people improperly."
Specifics of the bill are still being worked out.
The proposal comes on the heels of similar legislation aimed at Hildale's polygamous sister community, Colorado City, Ariz. The twin cities are home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
It also comes during a time of turmoil in the FLDS community. Many are leaving the faith due to recent edicts from imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs. At the same time, there are reports of increasing devotion to the man who is serving a life sentence for raping underage girls.
Jeffs, sometimes acting through his brother Lyle Jeffs, recently banned his followers from bicycles, ATVs and trampolines and from having sex.
Shurtleff said "things are heating up down there with Jeffs and his brother" and people on the Utah side of the border want to know what is being done to protect them. Some of the issues also revolve around property rights, which Shurtleff said police often deem civil matters and fail to intervene.
Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training has take action against seven Hildale police officers, including revocations, the past seven years, said Dwayne Baird, Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman.
Two Hildale police chiefs were decertified in recent years, one for practicing polygamy and one for sending a letter to Jeffs — while he was in hiding several years ago — asking what to do about two girls who went missing, Shurtleff said.
"Rather than do his job as police chief, he sought direction from a fugitive on how to do his job," he said.
In 2003, all five Hildale police officers were suspended for six weeks for failing to fulfill a 40-hour annual training requirement mandated by Utah state law.
In Arizona, a legislative committee last week approved a measure that could shut down a municipal police force whenever more than half of the average number of officers has been decertified over a period of time.
Among Arizona's 91 incorporated communities, Colorado City is believed to be the only one that would meet that criteria, according to the Arizona Republic. The bill came at the urging of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne.
According to Arizona's Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, Colorado City averages 10 officers at any one time. A half-dozen of them have been decertified in recent years, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring their allegiance to the FLDS prophet above the law, according to the Arizona Republic.
Shurtleff said the Arizona bill prompted Utah to craft its own legislation. "It will be substantially different than Arizona's," he said.
Bramble said the challenge in drafting the bill is to make sure it isn't special legislation and that it doesn't cause unintended problems for other small-town police departments.