SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – The detective was on his back. The prostitute was above him.
“I kissed her breasts and nipples, as there was no place for my face to go,” the undercover detective wrote in his report of a 2011 vice sting.
The Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board said there was some place else for his face to go. The review board also said the hands of some Salt Lake City police officers went places they shouldn’t.
The board found problems with how city vice detectives investigate prostitution and sexual or illegal massages. The problems were one reason that Chief Chris Burbank disbanded the vice unit earlier this year and reassigned its detectives.
In an interview Friday, Burbank said crimes traditionally investigated by the vice unit, including prostitution, human trafficking and liquor law violations, are being handled by other units. Burbank said he is considering a new organizational structure to address those crimes.
“Not that we’re getting out of vice enforcement,” Burbank said. “We’re just re-evaluating what vice will look like.”
Burbank also confirmed that some vice detectives were disciplined over the problems that were found. The sergeant over the unit received a 60-hour suspension for failure to properly train and monitor his subordinates, Burbank said. Other detectives received written reprimands or orders to undergo training on proper procedures.
One of the procedural mistakes Salt Lake City police made: Detectives in at least three cases in 2011 violated the department’s “no touch policy.”
In another case, vice detectives were investigating a massage parlor on 4500 South — outside the boundaries of Salt Lake City. Once there, the board found, detectives violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the business and its employees by conducting an improper search.
The board also found vice detectives were not booking evidence into storage in a timely manner and cited the lieutenant in charge of the vice unit for failure to properly supervise his subordinates.
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The Civilian Review Board issued its findings last month. The board is composed of citizens from across Salt Lake City who field complaints from citizens and investigate them independently of the police department. The review board report emphasized the errors appeared to have been made honestly and there was no criminal or malicious intent.
As far as touching suspects, reports from the review board indicate part of the problem was that vice detectives didn’t know which policies they were operating under. Old policies said undercover detectives could engage in some touching of suspects if they reported it afterward to their supervisors.
In May 2011, the police department amended the policy to prohibit touching. Despite the seemingly clear language, some detectives who worked undercover to catch prostitutes and illegal masseuses were confused about whether a small amount of touching was allowed and how they were supposed to prove their case in court if there had been no physical contact with the suspects.
In the Dec. 2, 2011, case of the detective who kissed the prostitute’s breasts, he argued it was not a policy violation since he had no control over her placing her breasts in his face. The review board disagreed, saying the kissing was a voluntary act on the detective’s part. The board said the detective committed “conduct unbecoming.”
On the same day the detective’s face was in the prostitute’s breasts, an undercover detective violated department policy by touching a masseuse’s vagina while she was rubbing him, the board found. The masseuse later told the review board investigator she believes the detective sexually assaulted her.
Burbank said the detective was not prosecuted in court.
“It did not rise to criminal conduct,” Burbank said.