BY KEITH D. SQUIRES, COMMISSIONER OF THE UTAH DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY
Last month, I received my certificate for 25 years of service with DPS from Governor Herbert. It’s at this point in your career that you realize just how fast it all goes by in the big picture.
There are so many incidents and issues that you handle during that time, so many people’s lives that you connect with, and so many great friends that you make and keep along the way. As time goes by in our careers and life, things change and they always will. And even though we must adapt, the thing that carries us through those years are our families, friends, core values and positive attitudes. In our service as state troopers, it is our drive for doing good and helping others that distinguishes us and provides real career satisfaction.
Over the years, I’ve seen fluctuations in the overall public support for law enforcement across the country. Those fluctuations are mostly driven by what is being prominently portrayed in the media. Occasionally in our state, a controversial incident or action by an officer will cause concern and criticism. This is not unhealthy, as it is incumbent upon those charged with administrating law enforcement agencies to ensure that we first police ourselves.
We in Utah law enforcement and the residents of our great state enjoy a very professional law enforcement culture, the foundation of which is built upon the overall high caliber of individuals who seek having a professional career in service to their communities.
We have a system of checks and balances that protects against rogue actions and hiding improper conduct. By design, prosecutors in Utah are not the police. It is the responsibility of police officers to independently investigate crime and bring their evidence to the independent prosecutors who provide an objective set of eyes in determining if charges will proceed in the court system.
Additionally, it is the prosecutors who must determine if a law enforcement officer’s actions were conducted outside the law. I do not know the details that brought recent charges against a West Valley City police officer by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. Whether you agree with it, or not, it demonstrates that our system of independent scrutiny of police actions is taking place. This must be the case in order for the majority of the public we serve to have confidence in our agencies and profession. The fact that the court did not find sufficient evidence further supports that we do have a healthy criminal justice system that provides scrutiny at every level.
Today we are facing one of the most challenging times in law enforcement that I have seen. Each week we see high-profile incidents involving law enforcement agencies and officers from around the country that are being used by some to illustrate that there is something wrong with our profession. Some use the “militarization of law enforcement” mantra in an effort to restrict police officers from using certain protective equipment – equipment such as armored vehicles that are very limited in their use for defensive protection in rescue situations. Our system of checks and balances provides that if officer or agency use tactics or equipment inappropriately, they will be held accountable. Equipment, such as AR15 rifles and armored vehicles, are needed on an extremely limited basis. When used by highly trained peace officers, they greatly increase the odds that officers will be able to successfully protect lives and return home safely at the end of their duty.
The unfortunate impact of this increased criticism on police officers is that it paints a picture of widespread non-support for their service. In recent months, I’ve heard from officers, their spouses and individuals outside of law enforcement who are very frustrated with this negative attitude towards law enforcement. A lot of this frustration comes from seeing how events in other parts of the country are being unfairly applied to insinuate a problem in our state. Now is the time for our state leaders to support the men and women serving in Utah law enforcement. It’s important that when they have questions about our policies, training and tactics, that they give us a chance to demonstrate what is in place. I have found that in most cases when this happens, individuals are surprised to learn what Utah law enforcement has put in place to protect the public, individual rights and our officers.
Our Utah Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation have the finest men and women anywhere who are committed to providing exceptional public service every day. On Thanksgiving Day, Col. Danny Fuhr and I were contacted by Geoff Liesik at KSL TV and made aware of a nice social media post about Sgt. Brett Gehring. The manager of the Vernal Walmart auto care center passed on information regarding how Sgt. Gehring brought a gentleman into her store who had broken down with his family on the highway. She described that the man had a flat tire and was using a doughnut spare as another tire. She was very touched because Sgt. Gehring quietly told her that he would pay for the gentleman’s tires. No one would have ever known that this act of kindness took place by Sgt. Gehring if this store manager had not shared it with others on Facebook.
In early December, we learned that Trooper Jeff Jones in Millard County had stopped 87-year-old Helen Smith for a traffic violation. After receiving a warning, instead of pulling forward, Smith backed into Jones’s car. Trooper Jones talked with her again and realized she needed assistance on her way to Ogden to be with her gravely ill son. Without being directed by anyone, Trooper Jones began coordinating a shuttle for the woman. Jones drove her to Juab County to Trooper Jared Jensen, who drove her to Utah County so Trooper Chris Bishop could get her to Salt Lake County. It was there that Trooper Andrew Pollard, one of our newest troopers, drove the woman to Ogden Regional Medical Center. The family was so touched at the troopers’ collective act of kindness that they called KUTV 2. Good work and kindness isn’t always noticed by the public, but these two stories remind all of us to be proud of our brothers and sisters wearing brown.
I am personally grateful for the service you are willing to give to the people of Utah. I recognize the sacrifice you and your families make as you put on your uniforms, patrol our highways, investigate crimes and sometimes find yourselves in harm’s way. It is a noble and special thing you do every day. And I thank you.