HB 123: Police Use of Force Accountability
This bill passed the House 70-0 and passed the Senate 23-0.
While the public buzz around police reform has certainly diminished in the past year, the need for change persists, which is why some legislators aren’t giving up the fight. This year, Representative Kera Birkeland is sponsoring House Bill 123 in order to elevate standards surrounding police internal investigations when an officer uses force. The bill also requires that prior to using deadly force, an officer must identify themself as an officer and “give a clear oral warning of his or her intent to use a firearm or other physical force.”
When a Utah police department investigates an officer for their use of force, they are not currently bound by a time limit. Drawn out investigations can create lots of questions and unrest among the public, but more importantly, among a victim’s family members who are awaiting answers as to what really happened and how it will be resolved. This bill solves this problem by requiring the investigation into the officer’s use of force to be completed within 180 days of the incident. If the department still needs more time, the bill would require the attorney to post a public statement on their website with a reasonable time estimate for the completion and reason for delay.
When the investigation is complete, this bill requires the county or district attorney to publish all investigative reports and any findings or analyses on their website within five business days of completion.
In 2021, Representative Birkeland sponsored a similar bill that would have gone even further to address police use of force beyond investigations, but sadly, it died along with many other police reform attempts that various legislators made. This bill is a compromise with law enforcement based on the starting point of that 2021 bill. It is still a step in the right direction to uphold accountability and give the public more knowledge about what’s happening with internal investigations, which are currently vague.