Utah’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, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Police Chief Chris Burbank 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 is taking the chief’s advice. The proposal 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 oppose the bill, 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. Some detractors say Salt Lake City’s motivation for pushing more restrictive access to discipline records stems from misconduct cases that got media attention.