Law enforcement checked and balanced
December 31, 2012
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is looking for fresh faces for the Citizen Advisory board, which has kept an eye on local law enforcement for the last nine years.
"These are people who are supposed to represent and be a microcosm of the community," Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said. "And it’s been fun to get their perspective, because what ultimately I’m trying to get out of them is, what does the community think about this, what would the normal layman think about how we’re conducting business?"
The board advises Edmunds on various issues, from policy to disciplinary actions.
"They have watched use-of-force videos and commented on whether or not the deputy’s actions were appropriate or not," he said. "They review policies in much the same manner. If I’m going to institute a new policy, they’ll often look at it, and they’ll talk about why the policy needs to be changed, altered or introduced. And they certainly weigh in on what their thoughts are and how it might impact the community."
Edmunds added that the board, made up of about 15 residents from across Summit County, has influenced many of his decisions.
"It’s been extremely helpful," he said. "At one point we were posting all arrestees with their photographs online, and the Citizen Advisory Board wanted us to just post felonies, and that was something I was against. I thought we should be posting all photographs."
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Following a lively discussion that lasted several hours, it was agreed that the Sheriff’s Office would only post pictures of those charged with felonies.
"After some time they were able to convince me that that was the right course of action at the time," he explained.
Former Park City Mayor Brad Olch, who chairs the board, said the group provides a sounding board for Edmunds.
"I think he’s a very good listener and appreciates our perspective outside of law enforcement," he said. "I think it’s a very positive thing for people to serve on the board, as well as a positive thing for Edmunds to have the different perspectives."
Olch added the experience has given him a different perspective from what he hears in the news.
"You have to listen to both sides," he explained. "I think that’s the most striking thing that has come out of this. It’s very easy for people to get one perception. But then when you actually sit down and have everything explained to you, you have the other side."
Olch said that when people get stopped for speeding or DUIs, they don’t appreciate how difficult it is for the peace officers.
"When you pull someone over, you have no idea how someone is going to react, even it it’s just for a tail light being out," he said. "These guys really put their lives on the line when they pull someone over. The reality is, they are really nice and caring people, and they want people to be safe and get where they are going safely. I think that’s the perception that gets lost."
Coalville resident and business owner Tom Moore has served on the board for two years.
Moore calls himself a mouthpiece for North Summit.
"Instead of patrolling up and down the town, we urge the peace officers to stop in the local mercantile store and buy a banana, or stop at the local dairy and get a quart of milk," Moore said. "It makes people feel like they are more a member of the community, instead of a cop going by trying to see if there is something wrong going on."
Moore also successfully encouraged the Sheriff’s Office to send deputies on bikes to protect early morning female joggers.
An important outcrop of the board has been the increased transparency, Edmunds said.
"Law enforcement is the most conspicuous manifestation of government, and if you don’t have transparency there then you have some real problems on your hands," he said. "The public rightfully has some distrust of government. I think we in law enforcement have fostered that over the years and are to blame."
However, most law enforcement administrators are starting to realize the public should be able to have a lot of input on how their police force conducts business, he said.
"I think we need to do a much better job of allowing the public a time where they can come and weigh in. That’s how we’ll take this to the next level," he said.
Historically, the Citizens Advisory Board has met quarterly, though in recent years the meetings have started to drop off. In January, Edmunds plans to address the issues of some members not regularly attending and find out what the board wants to look like going forward.
"I hope the group will continue and we can make it fresh again," he said. "I think we do need to get some new folks on there to freshen it up. But the core concept is sound and it’s been proven to be helpful for years now."
Residents interested in applying for a position on the Citizens Advisory Board can contact Edmunds at 435-615-3510.