SALT LAKE CITY — Gina Thayne, whose nephew was killed in 2014 after an officer shot him in the chest and stomach, has a "very personal and emotional reason" for urging Unified police to not only keep their body cameras, but also equip the entire force.
"As horrific as it is to be a family member of someone that was killed by a police officer, you have to see that I have a lot of faith in the body cameras because it brings out dignity — or lack of dignity — on both sides," Thayne told the Unified Police Department board of directors Wednesday night.
Thayne's nephew, Dillon Taylor, was 20 years old when he didn't take his hands out of his waistband as he was ordered to do and continued to walk backward, according to the recording.
"No fool," Taylor is heard saying on the footage before he quickly lifted his shirt and took his hands out of his waistband. The Salt Lake police officer then fired two quick shots. Taylor died from his injuries. No weapon was ever found.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill later determined the shooting was legally justified.
"Dillon Taylor was never able to have a voice or say what happened," his aunt said Wednesday. "But the footage says a million words."
Thayne said body cameras don't just protect the community, but also police officers.
"I think this saves lives, and I think it protects both sides," she said. "I hope we keep it around."
Thayne was among dozens of residents who turned out for Wednesday's public hearing at the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office to urge Unified's decision-budgeting body to not phase out Unified's body camera program after a federal grant expires in two years.
The Unified department is among Utah's largest and wide-reaching police forces.
Residents from across the Salt Lake Valley, including many from minority groups, shared stories of loved ones being fatally shot by police officers and experiences that damaged their trust of the police force that has been sworn to protect them.
Carlos Martinez, of Rose Park, said his community has historically had a "very divisive relationship" with police officers, and "many of us see them as an occupying force to quell our ability to gain power in our own communities."
"Eliminating body cameras would be huge in continuing this division of us versus them because a lot of our youth don't feel safe around police officers," Martinez said.
While Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera is not specifically proposing Unified phase out its body cameras, Unified's board met in February to discuss the costs facing the department in coming years with regard to body cameras and footage storage. Eliminating the program altogether was an option.
But Rivera said that's not what she's proposing. Rather, her budget proposal includes continuing Unified's body camera program as is, and gather data in the meantime to determine the value of the program and what should happen when the grant expires.
"It spiraled out of control," Rivera said of public concerns that Unified might phase out its body cameras. The "intent," she said, was to notify the board of directors that the police department was going to need to come up with the money to continue to fund the cameras.
To date, Unified has spent more than $494,000 on body cameras since it equipped a portion of its police force with the cameras. Of that, $146,000 came from a grant and Unified paid $348,000.
Prior to Wednesday's meeting Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, posted on Twitter a letter he'd written to the Unified police board urging that it keep its body cameras. For several years, McCay has sponsored body-camera related legislation, though he has not pushed a mandate on body cameras because "I felt that once cameras were used, no one would want to get rid of them because the benefit of transparency would outweigh the costs."
"I will be watching the actions of the board tonight and hope that you will make a decision that will protect our UPD officers and the public good," McCay wrote.
The board didn't take any action Wednesday, though Rivera indicated there isn't an appetite to phase out the body cameras.4 comments on this story
"I'm supportive of keeping what we have currently to continue gathering data and to continue seeking out other vendors that may be more cost-effective for our department," Rivera told the Deseret News on Thursday.
Where the money comes from, however, is yet to be decided. That will be hashed out in the coming weeks as part of the budget process, the sheriff said.
"I do appreciate the public coming out and giving us their opinions," Rivera noted. "Now we have to work on public trust as law enforcement, and we try really hard to do that."