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Police Reform On Docket In Utah Legislature

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Police reform will be a top priority when the Utah Legislature opens next Tuesday, and groups are pressing lawmakers to pass more than 60 expected bills.

Some key areas of focus include police accountability, use of force and police misconduct.

Molly Davis, policy analyst for the Libertas Institute, said after a summer of Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the state, lawmakers feel a sense of urgency for change.

She added many of the bills, some of which are likely to be combined, aren't public yet, and she predicted one that's likely to pass would ban "no-knock" warrants, a tactic that led to Breonna Taylor's death in Kentucky.

"Unless an existing imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death exists, officers have to do a 'knock and announce,'" Davis urged. "We want to give the individual reasonable time to answer the door, and make sure law enforcement announces themselves loud and clear before bursting into an individual's home."

After a special session over the summer, then-governor Gary Herbert also signed House Bill 5007, which bans the use of chokehold methods, after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd using a "knee on the neck" restraint.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said House Bill 154 would prevent police from using additional force against someone who's been subdued or is cooperating with commands. It also would require other officers to intervene if a colleague uses illegal force.

She pointed out even though her district is majority white, constituents are in favor of serious changes in police conduct.

"With the George Floyd killing and everything that's happening, it's nothing new," Iwamoto remarked. "But I think what's happened in Utah and other places is a call to action. And so, my district and the state have been very positive about wanting police reform in some way."

Utah has about 37,000 Black residents, but Black police officers make up less than 1% of the state's Department of Public Safety, according to a department report. And they are over-represented in the state's prison population.