State law limiting police officer use of deadly force against suicidal individuals goes into effect

File photo: Gephardt Daily

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 5, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — A state law limiting the circumstances when law enforcement officers are legally authorized to use deadly force against individuals suffering from mental illness, or who are in crisis, and are a danger only to themselves, has gone into effect.

This change comes as a result of House Bill 237 Lethal Force Amendments, which was championed by Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, said a news release from Salt Lake County.

“I sponsored this bill because I wanted to do something positive not just for my community but for law enforcement officers, too,” said Dailey-Provost in a provided statement.

“In my conversations with officers, it became clear to me that interactions with suicidal people, especially those considering ‘suicide by cop,’ are some of the most dangerous, potentially devastating situations for everyone involved.”

District Attorney Sim Gill added: “Allowing, even expecting, police officers to use deadly force when dealing with someone who is a danger only to themselves is a recipe for heartbreak, not just for the family of the individual, but also for any officer forced to make that terrible decision.

“Permitting officers the ability to step back strategically and thoughtfully, to take a breath, and to re-engage in a different way with someone in crisis will, we hope, lead to fewer officer-involved shootings and better results for community members and their families experiencing mental illness.”

West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine has long championed the changes contained in House Bill 237.

“Allowing and advising officers to tactically withdraw from situations where the suspect is a danger only to himself is a positive thing not just for the suspect and the officer, but also for the communities we serve given that courts across the country are more and more likely to allow civil rights cases against officers who use deadly force against a suicidal suspect,” Wallentine said.

“House Bill 237 is long overdue, and will result in more and better training for officers on how to more successfully engage, or disengage when necessary, when people are in crisis.”

Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director Ian Adams said: “It is a rare case where line officers, supervisors, prosecutors, and civil liberties groups can all agree that legislation is not just prudent, but necessary. In a country where approximately 10-29% of officer-involved shootings involve ‘suicide by cop,’ though, House Bill 237 is just that. It allows officers to dis-engage or withdraw from highly charged, dangerous situations, and could prove crucial to lowering the number of ‘suicides by cop,’ meaning fewer lives lost and fewer careers on the line when an officer was just following the law and her training.”

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