By Carbon County Sheriff Jeff Wood
I wanted to take a few minutes and discuss a topic that comes up often on social media and in community discussions. It is the topic of law enforcement investigations.
First, I would like to point out that every call of suspicion that comes in through the community must be investigated. Some of these calls turn out to be criminal cases and some do not. The fact is they all start with a call to dispatch, or an anonymous tip, or some contact with law enforcement to trigger the response.
Second, I want it to be known that law enforcement maintains a non-biased stance and does not get to pick and choose the criminal incidents that get to be investigated. With that said, there is discretion afforded to law enforcement officers and, based on the level of criminal activity, there are always different avenues on how the incident is handled.
An example would be to take a violator into custody (arrest), issue a citation or screen charges through the county attorney’s office. These are common examples of officer discretion in handling a criminal case. With that said, there are cases and crimes that the law is very clear how law enforcement is to handle it. Sometimes the law reads that law enforcement shall effect an arrest and this takes the discretion out of law enforcement’s hands.
Third, I wanted it to be known that law enforcement has a duty to react to criminal activity and it cannot be ignored, despite community opinion.
At the sheriff’s office, we take great pride in community involvement and duty to serve our community. We take a very proactive approach to community policing and are transparent in our activities. I feel like sometimes, the community does not understand the process of a police investigation nor the way the court system works.
A mere investigation does not automatically equate to a conviction. The laws of the state are not created by law enforcement nor should they be; they are created by the legislature. Law enforcement is also not tasked with the prosecution of the case; this is handled by the county attorney or even the Attorney General. I feel this is important because as law enforcement is the face of a case, it is far from the determining factor in the outcome of the case.
In other words, the investigation is completed by law enforcement, thoroughly scrutinized by the county attorney and then tried in a court of law with a presumption of innocence to the accused party. All of this is assuming that the elements of the crime are met; at any point in the investigation, it can be halted due to lack of evidence or failing to meet the requirements mandated by law.
I am grateful for this process and respect the system. We live in a country where a person is innocent until proven guilty. I mention this because often on social media, there seems to be trial by community and this is not fair. We often see the pendulum swing to both sides on social media with a split on how the case should have been or should not have be handled.
It needs to be stated that we do not, nor can we, share all of the facts of a case in a press release and are very careful to protect the rights of all parties involved. We are also very aware of social media risks and those who thrive on discontent that want to bend the narrative to fit their cause. We feel that this is not necessary as we are only trying to keep the public informed.
I wanted to get this information out to the community in the hope that we as a community could be a little better informed and be a bit more considerate to one another. I often notice that when the sheriff’s office puts a post on social media, it becomes an opportunity for some folks to air their issues that may have nothing to do with the post. I would ask that if you have an issue with local law enforcement, take it up with the proper law enforcement administration. This way, your voice will be heard and you can possibly better understand the approach of your law enforcement, but it does no good to be critical of an issue without understanding all of the facts surrounding the issue.
I appreciate our community and enjoy the opportunity to serve in the office of sheriff. We truly live in the greatest place in Utah.