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The City Journals

West Valley police releases series of videos giving public inside look

Jun 24, 2020 03:26PM ● By Travis Barton

In an effort to answer public questions and increase transparency, the West Valley City Police Department recently launched a series a videos on its website and social media platforms to demonstrate how it operates and better facilitate communication with the community. (Screenshot)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Police departments are facing mass scrutiny across the country after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers launched public protests across the globe.

In an effort to answer public questions and increase transparency, the West Valley City Police Department recently launched a series a videos on its website and social media platforms to demonstrate how it operates and better facilitate communication with the community. City officials hoped the videos would show how the department has already implemented many of the policies community groups are calling for.

“We understand some may have questions about how we operate, train officers and ensure that all people in community are treated fairly and without prejudice,” Police Chief Colleen Jacobs said as part of a five-minute video statement introducing the series.

Jacobs outlined several “proactive” ways the department works to ensure it “meets and in many cases exceeds national best practices.” She listed its national accreditation, citizen review board, crisis intervention team, mental health court, monthly meetings with the chief and citizen academy where participants experience some training and issues that challenge officers on a regular basis.

Its first three videos focused on body cameras, the professional standards review board and its national accreditation, with about 10 videos planned.

Body cameras

Police officials said the camera’s No. 1 purpose is transparency.

Cameras capture wide angle images in an effort to capture everything the eye could see from the officer’s perspective. Cameras are activated when a weapon or taser is removed from its holster or when sirens are turned on. It can also be activated remotely by a supervisor. When a camera is activated, it will automatically go back and record previous 30 seconds of footage.

Cameras also come with multiple fail-safe protections. All footage is considered evidence and therefore unchangeable by anybody in the department. In order for footage to be deleted, it takes a message to the chief that requires formal correspondence. Then it needs not only the chief’s approval but another administrator as well.

“We believe transparency is very important and (body-worn cameras) is one of the avenues we can accomplish that,” Jacobs said.

Professional Standards Review Board

Created in 1992, PSRB consists of a group of resident volunteers (seven when at capacity) who review all use of force occurrences, displays of force, firearm discharges and citizen complaints. The board can then determine whether the action was within policy and, if needed, make disciplinary recommendations to Police Chief Colleen Jacobs.

It is the longest standing board of its type in the state.

“City leaders from many years past recognize that it was critical that our law enforcement activities, police department and community be well aligned and that’s part of the accountability we have to the people in this community,” said Deputy Chief Scott Buchanan. 

Abby Dizon-Maughan has lived in West Valley City for 13 years, served on the PSRB for eight years and been its chair the past six years. She also works as an attorney in Salt Lake City.

“The function of the board is so that they (the police department) don’t lose sight of the people they are charged with serving and protecting,” Dizon-Maughan told the City Journals in March 2017. “We are the voice of the people.” 

More recently, Dizon-Maughan participated in the police department’s video to talk about her experience with the board and the department.

“I think it’s critically important to have civilian input into those instances, so it’s not just the officers reviewing each other or not just the chief reviewing those instances,” she said.

The board meets monthly to review cases and also holds public comment meetings to hear from residents regarding policing issues.

“It’s very important to us to have that citizen’s perspective to make sure we’re keeping the bigger picture in mind,” Jacobs said.

Dizon-Maughan said she believes all of their concerns they’ve taken directly to the chief or city manager “have been heard.”

“Given my relationship with (Jacobs) and the experiences I’ve had with Chief Jacobs,” she said. “I believe that she really takes our recommendations seriously. She’s appeared at several of our closed meetings to update us on any discipline that we’ve recommended to her.”

“Our chief is really dedicated and committed to making sure that our officers are at the forefront of change and not trying to catch up whenever something hits the news, and I’m really proud of that,” Dizon-Maughan continued.

Buchanan said they appreciate the voluntary investment of board members and the amount of hours they put into their reviews.

“Members of our PSRB are sometimes harsh critics and we ask that of them, we need that of them very much and they certainly deliver every time,” Buchanan said.

CALEA

CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) is a national organization that’s considered the gold standard in public safety. The department was awarded CALEA accreditation in 2017 after an extensive three and a half year process where it had to demonstrate the best practices of law enforcement in over 150 standards. 

Only 5% of agencies across the country are accredited.

Accreditation is ongoing as departments must engage on an annual basis. Each year, 25% of the department is reviewed remotely and assessed in person every four years. CALEA officials also interact with the community to understand how the community feels.

“We have to provide evidence to CALEA to show that we’re actually doing what we say we are doing,” Buchanan said before later saying, “we believe it is a key piece of our transparency as an organization. But more importantly to show that we are accountable to the people that work and play in our community.”

The department is currently working toward becoming an advanced tier program. Tier one programs require 187 standards while the advanced tier will require approximately 400.

Jacobs finished her initial video with a commitment to the community to “listen, learn and continually strive to improve.”

“Let me be clear, there is no room in my department for injustice of any kind,” she said. “We as a police department and as a city join our voices in the cry for justice and equality, raise our voices for fairness, service, accountability and integrity. These are the core values of our department, to us these are more than just words. These are guidelines for what we do. Our community deserves nothing less.

“You have my commitment that I will do everything in my power to ensure that we uphold these values now and into the future.”