Salt Lake City Police Department Code of Ethics

Utah residents have certain expectations from the Salt Lake City Police Department which can include: detecting and preventing criminal activity; answering calls from the public for assistance; and upholding their code of ethics when handling
any situation put before them.

Police conduct in question

Photo by: Dave Conner

A video was recently released showing a July incident involving a Salt Lake City police detective roughly and incorrectly handling a situation with a nurse from the University of Utah hospital. Detective Payne and officers with the Salt Lake Police Department arrived at the hospital, requesting a blood draw from Idaho reserve officer and truck driver William Gray, an innocent victim hurt by a suspect in a high speed chase. After speaking via phone to her supervisor, nurse Alex Wubbels calmly informed Detective Payne that pulling a blood sample from unconscious Gray was unethical, and violated the patient’s Fourth Amendment rights as well as hospital policy. She presented documentation that for police to obtain a blood draw from a patient, they must have either:

• Consent from the patient;
• A warrant from a judge; or
• Have already placed the patient under arrest.

After becoming visibly upset, Detective Payne forcefully removed the nurse from the hospital in handcuffs before placing her in his vehicle.

Protecting citizens from other officers

While Detective Payne’s actions were undoubtedly excessive and troubling, so was the inaction of other officers on scene. Multiple officers were seen present on the video of Payne and Wubbels confrontation however none of those officers stepped in when Payne had noticeably crossed the line and admit shouts of “help me” and “why is this happening” from scared and confused Wubbels. More troubling is why nothing was done within the department until after the video was shared more than a month later. What should Utah residents expect from police and did nurse Wubbels receive treatment from Payne and the police department that was in line with their posted Code of Ethics?

Salt Lake City Police Department Code of Ethics

Photo by: Mesa0789

According to the Salt Lake City Police Department Policies and Procedures Manual is a copy of the Constitution followed closely by the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. This section states that “All law enforcement officers must be fully aware of the ethical responsibilities of their position and must strive constantly to live up to the highest possible standards of professional policing.” The Code of Ethics lists several areas in which they are to uphold these standards. These include: “Responsibilities of a Police Officer; Performance of the Duties of a Police Officer; Discretion; Use of Force; Confidentiality; Integrity; Cooperation with Other officers and Agencies; Personal/Professional Capabilities; and Private Life.

Violation of the Code of Ethics

Some of these “ethical mandates” above do not appear to be portrayed by any members of the police department present during the incident that took place at the University of Utah Hospital. These include:

Responsibilities of a Police officer. The first section of the Code of Ethics state “A police officer acts as an official representative of government who is required and trusted to work within the law. ( . . . ) The fundamental duties of a police officer include serving the community, safeguarding lives and property; protecting the innocent; keeping the peace; and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.”

Performance of the Duties of a Police Officer. According to the next section, “All citizens will be treated equally with courtesy, consideration and dignity. ( . . . ) Laws will be enforced appropriately and courteously and, in carrying out their responsibilities, officers will strive to obtain maximum cooperation from the public. They will conduct themselves in ( . . . ) such a manner as to inspire confidence and respect of the position of public trust they hold.”

Use of Force. Another section of the Code of Ethics explains that “[a] police officer will never employ unnecessary force or violence and will use only such force in the discharge of duty as is reasonable in all circumstances. Force should be used only with the greatest restraint and only after discussion, negotiation and persuasion have been found to be inappropriate or ineffective. While the use of force is occasionally unavoidable, every police officer will refrain from applying the unnecessary infliction of pain or suffering and will never engage in cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment of any person.”

Victims of police force

Nurse Wubbels was an innocent party to the incident at the hospital who was trying to keep the peace herself while protecting another innocent person- her patient William Gray. Not only was Detective Payne uncourteous in his performance, degrading Wubbels in front of her coworkers and other patients while using unnecessary force, the other officers on scene did nothing to protect her or her patient’s rights from Payne’s outrageous behavior. While unfortunate, this scene should encourage the department to increase their training regarding working with health care employees and treating citizens professionally and civilly.

Police Body Cameras Subject of Debate in Utah

police body camera debate

Photo: Glogger/Wikimedia Commons

Two recent cases in Utah where deadly force was applied by police officers have raised questions about the use of police body cameras. In both cases, it has been determined by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office that the use of deadly force was justified. This decision was made largely as a result of the fact that both officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shootings and it was possible to evaluate their actions. While many have wondered if a national policy regarding police body cameras could have alleviated problems in the aftermath of the Ferguson, MO, incident, others are concerned about the potential implications of such a requirement.

Police Body Cameras in Utah

Two separate cases in Utah have made considerable news: the fatal shooting of Dillon Taylor and nonfatal shooting of Timothy James Peterson. While footage remains to be released regarding the Taylor incident as the result of a pending investigation, the officer in the Peterson case has been cleared as a result of the body camera he was wearing and inflammatory statements made by Peterson previous to the shooting.

In a recent Utah poll, 83 percent of Utahns stated that they strongly or somewhat agree with police body cameras or some other device that would record the officers’ interactions with the public. Currently, 145 Utah officers are wearing the cameras with 114 more scheduled to get them in upcoming months. However, the state’s largest police department, the Unified Police Department, currently prohibits police body cameras, even if an officer has purchased one on his/her own.

According to Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who oversees the Unified Police Department, he isn’t against them. He just believes they shouldn’t rush to equip every officer with a camera without making sure they have policies in place regarding privacy concerns and how the footage will be used.

“I think they promote better customer service,” Winder said. “I think they promote liability reduction for the agency. The reason to have them is not just to protect the cop.”

Pros and Cons of Police Body Cameras: Can Big Brother be a Good Thing?

Utah isn’t the only state mulling over the use of police body cameras. In a recent panel discussion on the topic, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman stated that their goal was to have all 1,800 San Diego patrol officers equipped with body cameras by the end of 2015. However, as opposed to Utah where the footage from police body cameras is available to the public through the state’s public records law, California has chosen to only release records through the court system. Zimmerman said she would reconsider her stance if public safety was at stake, such as in the case of the Ferguson, MO, shooting. The public safety isn’t the only listed benefit of police body cameras. In addition to transparency, Zimmerman believes the use of body cameras can help restore public confidence in police.

Another benefit to the cameras directly links to the Ferguson incident, but a quick YouTube search of the term “racial profiling” indicates Ferguson wasn’t the only incident where law enforcement officers have been accused of this type of behavior. The behavior by some people to treating other people differently based on their race could be affirmed or acquitted regarding police actions if police body cameras were employed more regularly. Questions of abuse of power or unnecessary use of force could also be addressed. In September, the U.S. Border patrol stated that it would start testing body cameras on their agents as a result of numerous complaints.

Another benefit that was addressed at the San Diego panel was the fact that many situations that start as hostile become calmer once a suspect knows he/she is being filmed. Even though police officers are not required to notify an individual that they are wearing a body camera, many have found it to their advantage in tense situations. “[N]umerous officers have indicated they were glad they had them,” Zimmerman said.

While police body cameras can also be beneficial tools in officer training, one of the concerns regarding the cameras is that they would be used as part of performance evaluations. Another concern is that while many newer officers approve of using the cameras, many veteran officers are struggling with adapting to the technology, especially considering that many departments only require the officers to turn it on when dealing with individuals, something veteran officers may forget to do.

Other concerns relate to privacy and how the video might be used. For example, even though videos of failed sobriety tests are prevalent online, it is generally agreed that such video shouldn’t be used to make people look foolish. Also, this video could be used out of context. An example was used of an officer entering a home where child abuse may be reported. A house may look messy because of time of day or the child has been playing, but even though no abuse may be apparent, this type of video evidence of “unfit living conditions” might be misused in divorce proceedings.

The Future of Police Body Cameras in Utah

Sheriff Winder has raised other questions regarding the use of police body cameras that he feels need to be addressed before implementing a program with the Unified Police Department, questions such as how long video records need to be kept, how they are classified, and how editing will occur. Cost will be another issue.

In order to address some of these issues, Winder has assembled a panel to study the use of police body cameras, including police officers, members of the community, and at least one person who has admitted to being “anti-police.”

Winder believes it is best to thoroughly research this before implementation in order to avoid a civil lawsuit. He referred to an article from the U.S. Department of Justice which included a letter from the Police Executive Research Forum which stated, “The decision to implement body-worn cameras should not be entered into lightly…once the public comes to expect the availability of video records–it will become increasingly difficult to have second thoughts or to scale back a body-worn camera program.”