The first time Salt Lake City police officials tried to get Ty McCartney fired, he’d been on the job just nine months.
That was in 2005. McCartney, the investigator for a police review board launched to probe police wrongdoing by then-Mayor Rocky Anderson, had discovered a secret police department Internal Affairs investigation into alleged “unlawful orders that may be in direct violation of people’s constitutional rights.”
The Salt Lake City Police Civilian Review Board, for which McCartney was the only staffer had never been notified of the probe, despite a city ordinance that says the board was to get notice of all IA investigations. In complaining about McCartney, then-Police Chief Rick Dinse wrote that McCartney had overstepped his boundaries and pursued “an investigation based only upon a rumor.”
Anderson stood by his man then, and he continued to back McCartney through the end of his administration last year. That was when the Salt Lake Police Association president, joined by some council members, again implored the mayor to dump the meddlesome investigator.
Police officials didn’t get the action they wanted until Anderson left office in January. McCartney was given his walking papers by Ralph Becker’s transition team—one of a small handful of appointees not to make the transition from the Anderson to Becker administrations.
“Ty was really good at what he did,” says state Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, among the longest serving board members of the Police Civilian Review Board and its current chairman following mass resignations from the board last year. “He was a good administrator, a good nvestigator. He was tough and he was aggressive and he did the job.”
In the end, however, McCoy says McCartney and the board bumped against an equally tough police union president in Tom Gallegos. The Police Civilian Review Board collapsed under the pressure, McCoy says. A key player in the Becker mayoral campaign, McCoy does not criticize the decision to replace McCartney and says he believes Becker supports the board’s mission of reviewing police conduct outside the influence of the police department.
Aside from firing McCartney—something requested by the union president Gallegos and Police Chief Chris Burbank—Becker hasn’t made his intentions known for the future of the Police Civilian Review Board. As Becker restarts the volunteer watchdog group, moribund since a public meltdown last year, he will field calls to rein in the board’s wide-ranging oversight of police discipline. Those calls will come from the police union, which, during the just-completed legislative session, backed a bill to make all police discipline secret.
The question for Salt Lake City is whether the board will retain the independence Anderson gave it or revert back to the police-friendly review body Anderson found in 2000 and criticized as “completely toothless.” SLPD Blues
Salt Lake City has had a police-conduct review board of sorts since 1993. Then-Police Chief Ruben Ortega set up the board as his department was being sued by then-lawyer Anderson over alleged police brutality. But the police-dominated board was derided by minority communities. In 1997, then-City Councilwoman Deeda Seed argued for creation of an all-citizen review body. When Anderson took office, he added a budget to hire an independent investigator for the board. The board was given explicit powers to investigate complaints lodged against individual police officers.
The civilian review board ordinance passed by Salt Lake City in 2002 was, and remains, one of the most progressive in the country. But, it has a built-in tense relationship with police. That tension boiled over one year ago last spring just as Anderson’s second term was coming to a close. Allegations flew between sides that the watchdog agency was trying to embarrass officers, and that the police chief and city administration were ignoring the group’s work.
By the spring of 2007, what Anderson hailed as one of his proudest achievements as mayor was in shambles. The police department was investigating members of the volunteer board for alleged crimes. Dirt was flung on the police union president and the review board’s investigator. More than half of the board’s members walked away.
Salt Lake City’s Police Civilian Review Board hasn’t had a full meeting since April 2007. It hasn’t seen any new cases against police since January 2008.
In hindsight, McCartney thinks Salt Lake City wasn’t ready for true independent oversight of police—and not prepared to deal with the uncomfortable truths that such oversight reveal.
“Rocky was ready, but the rest of the administration and City Council were not,” he says. When, at the end of his time in office, Anderson was often out of town, the civilian review board lost its champion, and staff fell back on the impulse to trust the police.
“The CRB can’t be out there by itself,” he says. “Its independent functions depend on support from the City Council and mayor.”