SALT LAKE CITY, UT — Saying rising public tension between law enforcement and the public has created a need for a "cooling-off period" following critical incidents, a Utah County legislator is sponsoring a bill to keep the involved officers' names secret for up to four months.
Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, says HB306 is motivated by concern about backlash toward police around the country when officers have used force against a member of the public, and fear that officers are being "targeted" for harassment or violence.
However, rather than alleviate tension between police and the public, former Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank says the policy could exacerbate mistrust of law enforcement, and First Amendment attorney Jeff Hunt claims some concerns raised by the bill are already answered under Utah law.
The bill is being considered even as three officer-involved shootings from the past week are investigated.
On Sunday an armed man who had been making threats to blow up propane tanks at the Clean Harbors Incineration Facility was killed in a shootout with police in a remote area of Tooele County. Two men were fatally shot in seperate incidents Tuesday night in Ogden and Roy after police say they pulled out guns during confrontations with officers.
While McKell says he has not seen any problems in the state surrounding critical incidents — when an officer uses a weapon against someone, injures someone or kills someone — he cited the intense controversy and debate surrounding the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
"I feel strongly that officers are being targeted across the country," McKell said, calling Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson "an officer that was tried and convicted by the media."
He also referred to police officers across the country who have been attacked while on the job.
In a social media era, McKell says a "cooling-off period" is needed while tensions are high and investigations into critical incidents get underway. Currently, the bill sets that waiting period at four months.
"I believe that officers are being targeted, and with social media, we target them at a rate that outpaces anything we've ever seen," he said. "Because they're being targeted at such a fast and rapid rate, we need a cooling-off period."