Feature | Badgered: The cops’ union pressures Ralph Becker to go soft on police discipline | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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March 12, 2008 News » Cover Story

Feature | Badgered: The cops’ union pressures Ralph Becker to go soft on police discipline 

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A Leaky Vessel?
The Police Civilian Review Board had already crossed swords with several police higher-ups but may have sealed its fate by voting to look into allegations that union president Gallegos sexually harassed a female police employee in 2006.

In the union president’s view, the board had moved from looking impartially at police interactions with the public to digging dirt on people it didn’t like. “I had a target on my back,” Gallegos says. The board has no business peeping into what goes on behind Police Department doors, Gallegos says, let alone criticizing the police chief’s punishment decisions as too lax, as the board did in his case.

“The board was intended for excessive uses of force,” Gallegos says. “But it turned into, if it was a sexy case, an affair or scandal, they seemed to be interested.”

All hell broke lose in April 2006 when someone leaked to The Salt Lake Tribune that the Police Civilian Review Board had sustained an excessive force complaint against a police officer for allegedly roughing up 74-year-old Korean War veteran Miles Lund in Liberty Park. By board policy, that announcement should have come only after the police chief had also rendered a decision, or after a board vote to release the information. The police union was outraged and immediately pointed the finger of suspicion at McCartney in a letter to then-Mayor Anderson.

The police administration launched an investigation to find the leaker. Anderson stopped the investigation, noting the police probably shouldn’t be investigating the body charged with watchdogging the police. An outside investigator never found the leak. Quietly, police administrators made their own determination on the Liberty Park case last July, agreeing with the board and sustaining a charge of “unreasonable force” against the officer.

In the meantime, Gallegos’ adult-themed discipline got into the press and someone began shopping McCartney’s 10-year-old Sandy City Police Department discipline record to City Council members. Gallegos acknowledges asking Sandy officials for McCartney’s records, but denies giving the information to anyone except Mayor Anderson. A Police Civilian Review Board member allegedly threatened to release information to embarrass the chief. Board members fought with Mayor Anderson, beginning a cascade of protest resignations from the board.

McCoy calls the leak brouhaha “a mountain out of a molehill.” In fact, days after the “leak,” the essentials of the review board’s Liberty Park decision came out in the board’s regularly monthly report, a public document. At base, what happened was that the fight with the union president “just kind of snowballed,” he says.

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Both Chief Burbank and union president Gallegos acknowledge they asked Becker’s transition team to replace McCartney.

Burbank says the relationship between the department and the board had been ruined by “bitter conflicts and hatred between the union president and members of the board.” The conflict discredited the whole body in the minds of officers, since the union represents every officer brought up for discipline, he said.

At the end of last year—in the twilight between the Anderson and Becker administrations—the police union was moving quickly.

On Nov. 18, just two weeks after Becker’s victory, Lyn Creswell, an Anderson staffer who would become Becker’s chief administrative officer, wrote to city staff asking them to work with the police union in the Legislature to change Utah’s public-records law. His memo said the union wanted to “protect” police discipline in the same way Salt Lake County Sheriff’s deputies’ records are protected. Many didn’t understand until later that sheriff deputy discipline is completely secret. The bill died.

During city council meetings preparing a budget for this year, then-Councilwoman Nancy Saxton proposed zeroing out funding for the Police Civilian Review Board, doing away with the ordinance that created it and starting from scratch. On Dec. 14, 2007, the city began advertising for a new administrator for the board.

A few months earlier, in the wake of the “leak” scandal, city administrators put forward proposed changes to the ordinance that created the Police Civilian Review Board. McCoy says the board had no problem with a proposed criminal penalty for improperly releasing information. However, in a letter to the Anderson administration, the board did question a proposed ordinance amendment to limit its access to “ongoing” investigations. Was that a loophole like Dinse’s old “M” files?

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