ACLU requests records from law enforcement agencies on number of times SWAT teams are used
Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Five Top of Utah law enforcement agencies received from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah public records requests to determine the extent to which they use federally subsidized military technology and tactics used in combat areas.
The Government Records Access and Management Act requests were submitted Wednesday to Brigham City Police Department, Davis County Sheriff’s Office, Ogden Police Department, Roy Police Department and Weber County Sheriff’s Office.
The five were among 20 agencies in Utah to receive the requests and among 225 agencies across the country.
Specifically, the GRAMA requests are seeking information about the number of times and why SWAT teams are called out, the types of weapons used, injuries sustained by civilians, training materials, funding sources and what weapons and technologies are used. The ACLU is asking for records dating back to Jan. 1, 2011.
Leah Farrell, staff attorney with the ACLU of Utah, said the agencies were selected based on coverage in the media where “it looked like some type of tank or weapon was used,” as well as selecting agencies from different areas of Utah.
“We’re not positive what will come out of it,” Farrell said.
Farrell said ACLU officials across the country are concerned that police agencies are becoming militarized as they receive grants from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Those grants pay for equipment, such as the Davis County Sheriff’s BearCat, an armored truck that is used in standoffs and other emergency situations.
“It does not protect the citizens, and there is a growing trend across the county that it is harming the citizens,” Farrell said.
John Mejia, legal director with the ACLU of Utah, said the ACLU does not object to police agencies using federal grants to buy bulletproof vests or improved safety technologies. What it is opposed to is “the warlike tactics being used in everyday policing. It’s a troubling trend.”
Weber County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Klint Anderson said the problem is “the militarization of our criminals.”
Anderson said law enforcement is seeing “… criminals who have military experience and military training.
“They are better armed, better trained and more dangerous than before.”
Anderson said his agency has used federal grants to buy bulletproof vests for every officer, a “handful” of M16 assault rifles, cameras and radios.
“This is not about a fair fight, but avoiding a fight all together,” Anderson said.
Ogden Police Lt. Tony Fox said he spent 11 years with the SWAT team, and six of those years were as a metro commander.
“Nothing has changed in the training in the last 25 years,” Fox said. “We’re not (militarizing) our officers. The missions are task-specific.”
Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson said the ACLU’s request will require time for each department to gather the information.
“I’m going to have to have someone gather the information, and it will cost (the ACLU) financially because it shouldn’t be the taxpayers of Davis County paying for this,” Richardson said.
Richardson said the oversight into how each officer uses weapons is strict in each agency.
“I currently have a three-ring binder, 6 inches thick, on my desk that is just the reports from the shooting in Farmington,” Richardson said. The shooting happened Jan. 16 after a man shot at motorists on Legacy Parkway. He was then involved in a shooting with police officers.
“We are responsible for every bullet we shoot,” Richardson said.
Richardson said every officer involved in a shooting undergoes an extensive review before they are returned to work.
“You just don’t shoot your gun and put it in the holster and go back to work.”