ST. GEORGE — Utah legislators are considering a bill that seeks to tighten requirements for the use of forcible entry by police on private property. Sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, the bill passed committee Friday and is on the calendar to be debated and voted on by the full House.
Roberts is sponsoring forcible entry and warrants amendments, designated in the 2018 Utah Legislature as HB 83 1st Substitute. The proposed legislation would require supervisory officials to review officer affidavits and perform risk assessments before conducting operations using forced entry.
“This bill just puts in checks and balances when seeking warrants, specifically for forcible entry,” Roberts said in the Friday hearing of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.
Roberts said the bill would help prevent situations similar to a recent report of a SWAT team in Ogden forcing its way into the wrong home by codifying forced entry requirements for law enforcement agencies across the entire state.
“The intent here is to protect property and lives – lives on both sides,” Roberts said, noting that forced entry techniques can be dangerous.
Also speaking on the bill at the committee hearing was Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake City, who recounted an instance when a SWAT raid was performed to apprehend a suspect in a neighboring home. Weight said the incident was traumatic for bystanders.
“I witnessed the force entry into that house and there were three little kids there, so they were all screaming and crying,” Weight said. “It’s a very terrifying, incredibly terrible thing to witness.”
Weight said she supports extra consideration being made on the part of law enforcement before conducting such operations.
“I think we’re always looking for the least intrusive and least level of force,” said Tom Ross, Bountiful police chief and president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. Ross said the association does not believe the bill is necessary.
“Over 90 percent of these types of forcible entries are knock-and-announce,” Ross said. “Even on SWAT teams, we’re surrounding the location, we’re knocking, we’re asking them to come out, and only when necessary – hostage situations, things where we have life and safety – are we rushing in.”
The proposed bill would require top-level authorities, such as police chiefs and county sheriffs, to perform independent risk assessments to evaluate the circumstances of an officer’s investigation and ensure reasonable intelligence-gathering efforts have been made before a warrant can be sought.
While Ross said he doesn’t believe the bill is necessary, he also said he felt encouraged by the willingness of lawmakers to discuss the legislation with law enforcement officials, which led to the removal of a provision that would have required police seeking warrant to explain why an alternative to forced entry couldn’t be used to apprehend a suspect.
“I’m not here to say we’re in support of the bill,” Ross said, “but I can say with the changes that have occurred, it probably doesn’t fundamentally change a lot of what we’re doing.”
However, some policies regarding obtaining warrant for forced entry vary by agency. The legislation would unify the additional requirements for all law enforcement agencies operating in Utah.
“I think the Legislature’s willingness and preference over the past several years has been to codify best practices and statute rather than allowing the agencies to police themselves,” said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, a libertarian lobbyist group. “I think it would be a fair assessment that not every agency is doing this perfectly.”
In a policy review, Libertas said it supports the bill in order to ensure warrants are conducted properly and only when necessary for public safety and to minimize accidents and abuse.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah also supports the bill. Marina Lowe, legislative counsel for the organization, said the following:
I think really the motivation for us comes to the fact that these are really dangerous situations, not just for the people upon whom the warrant is being served, but also for the officers that are undertaking this dangerous mission, and we want to make sure that we’re getting the right house, the right location, that the proper precautions are being considered, and so think that putting that into statute is good policy.
Following a 6-2 vote of favorable recommendation Friday by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, the bill is now scheduled to be considered in the House.
- Read the bill: Utah 2018 HB 83 1st Substitute – Forcible Entry and Warrants Amendments
- Contact legislators
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