The recently concluded Utah state legislative session was not just monitored by Utah’s cities and counties. Law enforcement agencies were interested, too, in what lawmakers were considering.
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez talked about some of the highlights in his recent visit with KPCW’s Randy Barton on the Local View program.
Martinez said the Legislature considered over 133 bills. About a quarter of those were related to law enforcement.
But he said that often, they didn’t involve any significant changes. In fact, they codified policies that police agencies were already following, such as training for crisis interventions or prohibitions on chokeholds.
One bill changed the legal immunity covering officers in jails or prisons. It stipulated that if an officer’s acts or omissions were so reckless, or lacking in concern, that they led to a serious injury or death for a confined person, that officer did not have qualified immunity.
The sheriff said he firmly supported the bill.
“What that says to me is that somebody would have to have acted so recklessly—for example, they knew that they needed their insulin and they refused to give it to them, or the person made threats of committing suicide by hanging, and they chose not to take away anything that would allow them to commit that act,” Martinez said. “They have a nut allergy and they fed them peanuts, knowing full well that their menu didn’t allow them to have it. If somebody’s going be so reckless and just careless, then, yeah, I don’t think they should have qualified immunity.”
Another bill passed on Capitol Hill would provide oversight to prevent misuse of government records created by high-tech law enforcement tools.
“This bill in particular, what it was really meant for, is that if a government entity is going to gather more A.I.—Artificial Intelligence—and cameras and facial-recognition software, that there should be an oversight committee ensuring that what they’re utilizing is for proper purposes,” Martinez said.
But the legislation also applies to private firms like the Park City-based intelligence tech company Banjo, which does much of its business with governmental and law enforcement agencies like the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
“Private companies such as Banjo, if they’re going to utilize government accounts, government access to, for example, the driver’s license division UDOT cameras to gather information, that it’s being utilized properly and that the data isn’t being mined and stored and being used nefariously,” Martinez said. “It’s being used for the intended purpose. And so this bill creates a governing board that reviews and looks into that, and then makes recommendations whether to allow a private company to access government accounts.”
On another item, Martinez said he was very happy to see the passage of Senate Bill 102; the Peace Officer Training Qualification Amendment. The bill allows more people to apply for law enforcement jobs.
“Before, it said that you have to be a United States citizen to become a peace officer or dispatcher,” he said. “They struck out ‘United States citizen” and they said, be either a United States citizen or a lawful resident of the United States who has been in the United States legally for at least five years and has legal authorization to work within the United States, basically meaning a green card. If they’re here legally, they’ve been here for five years and they have a current and active green card and they are authorized to work in the United States, they can now hold a position of law enforcement or a dispatcher.”
Coincidentally, on the day of his visit to the Local View, he had hired a non-citizen for a dispatcher position at the sheriff’s office.
“She was born in Tijuana, Mexico, came to the United States, had a green card, been in the United States since she was a little girl. Recently just graduated from UVU with a degree in sociology,” Martinez said. “Her brother is in California, got his Masters’s Degree in Public Administration. She’s always wanted to give back, and always wanted to be part of law enforcement, and she didn’t know how to get into it. And she came and applied for a dispatcher position. And I actually hired her today to be one of my dispatchers. And it fits this bill perfectly.”