Several years ago, the Utah Valley police chiefs and the Utah County Attorney jointly decided to form a task force to investigate incidents involving police officers. Utah County needed a task force because, in incidents involving police officers, the officer's own agency could not reasonably investigate the incident for two reasons: First, conducting the investigation had the appearance of a conflict of interest for the agency. Second, these incidents were commonly too significant to do in-house or to dump on a neighboring agency; in other words, these investigations tended to take a great deal of time and manpower.
Related to both of these reasons was the issue of civil liability. Anytime an officer is involved in the death of another person, the decedent's family is likely to sue the officer's agency. In the civil lawsuit, if the agency performed its own investigation of the incident, the investigation would appear to be tainted. The plaintiffs would discount the agency's conclusions because it had a strong financial incentive to clear the officer of wrongdoing. Contrarily, if an unbiased agency or task force conducted the investigation, its conclusions would likely hold greater weight in the civil proceedings.
Similarly, the level or depth of the investigation needed to protect (or not protect) the police agency from liability commonly required resources beyond the capabilities of one agency. For example, in many of the officer-involved shootings, there are multiple crime scenes, dozens of witnesses, and dozens of leads to track down. We have found that it takes, on average, approximately 700 man-hours to complete an investigation. It can be overwhelming for one agency (that still has calls to respond to and crimes to investigate) to dedicate so many resources to one investigation, when another agency has to conduct a parallel investigation anyway.
Additionally, some of these incidents, by statute, required the county attorney to conduct its own investigation–and the County Attorney's Office did not have sufficient resources to conduct these investigations without assistance.
Therefore, in 1999, the chiefs and county attorney established the Utah County Officer Involved Incident Protocol (the Protocol) and created a task force (the Task Force) to manage the investigation of Protocol incidents. Each agency assigned officers to participate and the Utah County Attorney's Office Bureau of Investigations became the agency responsible for managing and training the Task Force.
In the Protocol, the chiefs and county attorney decided that the Task Force would investigate what we call an Officer Involved Incident, which the Protocol defines as an incident with two elements.
First, it must involve local law enforcement: "An incident which occurs in any city, town, or unincorporated area of Utah County and involves any employee of the Utah County Sheriff's Office, Brigham Young University Police, Utah Valley University Police, Utah Highway Patrol, Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah Department of Corrections, or any Police Department or Department of Public Safety of any city or town located in Utah County."
Second, the incident must involve one of the following acts:
- Any intentional or accidental shooting, whether or not a fatality results.
- Any intentional or accidental use of any other dangerous or deadly weapon against another person, whether or not a fatality results.
- Any physical altercations, mutual combat, or domestic violence in which the police employee is acting in the capacity of a private citizen and occurs within the jurisdiction of his or her employer.
- Any fatal injury, whether intentionally or accidentally caused, which results from the use of a motor vehicle by an employee while on duty and occurs within the jurisdiction of his or her employer.
- Any fatality of any person who is in police custody excluding deaths which are the result of disease, natural causes, or conditions which have been diagnosed prior to death.
- Any fatality which results from the efforts of an employee attempting to effect an arrest or otherwise gain physical control of another while the employee is on duty.
In short, if the Officer Involved Incident occurs in Utah County, involves an employee of a local or state police agency, and involves one of the enumerated acts, the Protocol is triggered and the Task Force may investigate.
After completion of the investigation, the Task Force refers the investigation to the police agency employing the involved officer(s) for commendation or disciplinary action, and to the County Attorney for his review.