Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Woods Cross Police Chief Chad Soffe addresses the members of the media during a press conference at the Woods Cross Police Department on Monday, June 10, 2019, where he apologized for an officer who pointed a gun at 10-year-old boy playing in his yard during a search for two suspects in a shooting on June 6, 2019.

On Friday evening, Black Lives Matter Utah will host a protest at the Woods Cross Police Department in support of DJ Hrubes, a 10-year-old black child who had a gun pulled on him by a police officer last week while playing in his grandmother's front yard in West Bountiful. The incident itself should trouble anyone who cares about the safety and well-being of children. But the response of the Woods Cross Police Department since the incident has been, in many ways, just as problematic.

At first, a lieutenant with the Woods Cross Police Department dismissed the incident as an unfortunate case of mistaken identity, telling news reporters that “(w)e had minimal information at the time, we had one possibly Hispanic out on foot and we knew there was at least one other suspect involved. This kid was just in the area at the wrong time.” The position of the department was that they did not have reason to look further into how their officer handled the situation.

After multiple organizations and concerned citizens called for an investigation into the officer's conduct and the department policies that allowed it, the Woods Cross police chief announced at a press conference that it would request that the Davis County Attorney's Office do a review of the department's policies. However, he continued to defend the officer and his behavior, denying that race was a factor and insisting that there were no policies or laws that were violated during the incident. Even more troubling was the fact that WCPD continued to contradict its earlier statements regarding some important details of the incident. Finally, Davis County Attorney Troy Williams told news sources on Tuesday that his office doesn't conduct policy reviews and will only conduct an investigation as necessary to make a criminal screening decision.

All of this indicates that the Woods Cross Police Department is trying to smooth things over instead of hearing or understanding the scope and nature of the concerns being expressed by the communities they serve. Such lack of accountability is a serious and systemic problem that demands our careful consideration. If law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting our communities either cannot or will not truly listen to legitimate and widespread concerns and be willing to adjust their policies accordingly, then what is our recourse as citizens? This is a perfect example of why citizen review boards and mechanisms for independent investigations are so needed.

Unfortunately, proposals for such solutions tend to come up only in response to tragic incidents when tensions are high and law enforcement is on the defense. But we cannot afford to keep kicking this can down the road. Why should we wait for another tragedy before we come together as individuals and organizations to make the necessary changes that will improve law enforcement effectiveness and make our communities safer? It's long past the time to bring these discussions into the light. It's time for our police departments to provide greater transparency, better training, and open and ongoing communication with full and fair representation of all members of our communities.

Friday's protest is about showing our support for one traumatized family, but it is also about utilizing the only mechanism we currently have for citizen oversight of problematic policing policies. Until there are better, more formal systems in place to ensure that these important discussions are happening effectively and regularly, we each have a responsibility to demonstrate that changes are really needed by showing up in solidarity with those who are most at risk in their absence.

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We may disagree among ourselves about the specific solutions or the appropriate response to this particular incident, but we can all agree that our children, our families, and our communities are stronger and safer when law enforcement agencies are continually working to address the needs and concerns of the communities they serve. A well-attended, peaceful protest can be a powerful statement about our values that sets in motion the more formal process for finding long-term solutions. Let's all rally around these ideals on Friday in a peaceful demonstration that shows how much we care — about DJ and his family and about systemic improvements that will make all of our children safer.