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South Salt Lake residents question if former police officers should sit on civilian review board

South Salt Lake’s City Hall is pictured on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah – Wendi Melling is a former dispatcher who has a soft spot for police officers. But she does not want to see a retired police officer on South Salt Lake’s new civilian review board. 

Melling told the city council last night that police officers have a brotherhood that can help them through bad times. 

However, she also feels it could lead to a conflict of interest, something no one would accept in other situations like a courtroom. 

“I think we can all agree there would be a public outcry if…people who were undergoing a jury trial had family members involved in the adjudication,” Melling said. 

Many people who spoke at last night’s meeting like Eliza McKinney said they also do not want family members of current police officers on the board. 

She also feels having the police involved would defeat the purpose.

“The whole point is that they’re civilians. It’s not supposed to be police making those decisions and having those discussions. I would also hope that the council thinks about removing a police officer from even attending…I think that that puts a lot of pressure and unspoken sway on the board,” McKinney said. 

Councilwoman Natalie Pinkney also expressed concern that the language of the ordinance setting up the board could allow current police officers from any city sit on South Salt Lake’s civilian review board. 

But some think excluding former police officers is unfair. 

South Salt Lake Fraternal Order of Police President Chad Leetham thinks retired officers bring a needed perspective. 

“Retired law enforcement, who have now served their time and are citizens of our great South Salt Lake community, shouldn’t really be penalized because of the profession they were in. Some of them were in 10 years, some of them were in 30, 40 years. But I still think they bring a lot to the table to bring some context and review to that board,” Leetham said.      

Other commenters also asked the council to make the board democratically elected instead of appointed by the mayor. 

South Salt Lake is in the process of putting together an ordinance to create the civilian review board. 

Some city council members have been open to the idea of having one former police officer be a voting member on the board. 

Currently, the plan calls for a police officer to be a non-voting member of the board. 

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