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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bad Bill Department: Secret Police Records?

The state's largest police department and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker are backing a controversial bill that would severely limit public access to the disciplinary records of police officers.

Police Chief Chris Burbank this week cast the effort as a way to put city cops on par with Salt Lake County officers who enjoy greater protection of disciplinary records. In what could be a litmus test for the new mayor on records-access issues, Becker said he is taking the chief's advice.

"On the advice of our police chief, we support it," said Helen Langan, a spokeswoman for Becker. "It's a sensible thing to do."

SB260, sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, would give police throughout the state the same exemption carved out for county officers: disciplinary charges against them would not be made public unless the officer appeals the sanction or agrees to open the records.

Public watchdog groups opposing the bill, now before a Senate committee, say it is a way to cloak information that should be available to taxpayers who support police departments.

"Just because the county officers have this secret police system doesn't mean we want to have a statewide police system of secrecy," said attorney Michael O'Brien, who represents the Utah Media Coalition, of which The Salt Lake Tribune is a member.

More here.

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