Utah chief supports de-escalation training, but not for rookies

Specialized training to de-escalate potentially deadly situations may be best reserved for experienced officers

By Kareem Copeland
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah police chief told lawmakers reviewing law enforcement practices after several high-profile police shootings that specialized training to de-escalate potentially deadly situations may be best reserved for experienced officers.

Draper City Police Chief Bryan Roberts told a legislative committee Monday that officers need the context of being on the job for a year or two for the advanced training to be valuable. Roberts, speaking on behalf of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said officers get some training on how to deescalate encounters at the academy anyway.

It takes experience to absorb what is being taught in an in-depth class and apply it in the field, Roberts said.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, questioned why it was necessary to wait one to two years into an officer's career before providing the specialized training.

"If it's enough for them to go out on the street, then is it enough for them to benefit from training?" Madsen said.

About $150,000 is spent annually to give de-escalation training to about 900 officers per year, state officials have said. Gov. Gary Herbert said last month he's in favor of allotting increased state funds to train more police officers about how to deescalate encounters to prevent them from becoming more violent.

The hearing Monday was the latest held by Utah legislators following turmoil late last year over shootings and other incidents in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. No legislation is on the table yet.

In Utah, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the September death of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, who was wielding a samurai sword in Saratoga Springs when police shot him. Hunt's family has said he wasn't a threat but was treated differently because he was black. Prosecutors found the officer acted appropriately.

Utah County Sheriff James Tracy, president of the Utah Sheriff's Association, questioned whether the scope of the issue in Utah is worth major changes. He said the sheriff's department averages about 26,000 contacts or reports per year, with only about 80 to 100 instances where force is used beyond verbal commands.

Tracy said any changes should be done in proportion to the issue in Utah.

"I fear that there's a lot of emotion running right now (surrounding) this issue nationwide based on Ferguson and the issues in Baltimore," Tracy said. "That may be driving some to, basically an emotionally driven effort, to just try to suck everything in and find a fix when in fact there may be very small fixes that need to be done."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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