- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Police in Utah forced their way into houses and buildings at least 559 times last year, with the vast majority for incidents related to drug crimes, according to a first-ever state report on law enforcement activity released Friday.

A total of three deaths followed the entries, according to the information provided by 124 police departments as part of the report ordered by lawmakers in 2014 to increase transparency.

Another 42 agencies failed to provide data for the report.

The report also says police encountered people with weapons in three of the forced entries.

The forcible entries tallied in the report include ones made while serving search warrants as well as SWAT team actions with or without warrants.

Comparisons were difficult because it was the first state report of its kind.

Still, Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a Utah libertarian policy group that pushed for the report, said it’s concerning that weapons were present in so few of the forced entries.

“This report suggests to us that significant amounts of violence and force are being used in non-violent situations,” Boyack said. “That represents an opportunity for unnecessary harm or death to occur over infractions and alleged crimes that could be handled in a much less violent method.”

A representative of the state agency that compiled the report wasn’t concerned about the lack of weapons.

“Police are tasked with going into these extraordinary dangerous situations and they need to go in with authority,” said Richard Ziebarth, program manager at the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. “It’s a good thing that they are not finding a lot of weapons.”

Ziebarth thinks the report confirms what many already knew: The state has good, responsible officers.

“I know there’s an interest in finding a problem but there doesn’t seem to be one from what the data shows,” he said.

Unified Police, which patrols the greater Salt Lake City area, recorded the most incidents with 95. It was followed by drug and major crime task forces in Cache County, Utah County and Washington County that registered from 48 to 56 forcible entries in 2014.

Boyack is concerned that one-fourth of the agencies didn’t respond to the survey, preventing the state from getting a full picture. But Ziebarth downplayed the non-compliance, saying a 75 percent response rate was good for the first-time effort.

The state will continue to produce the reports in the coming years, unless lawmakers change course and decide to pull the plug. Boyack’s organization plans to introduce legislation next year so the report also collects information on officer-involved shootings and use of armored vehicles.

Utah is currently the only state producing such a report, Boyack said. Maryland did a similar report for a few years but lawmakers allowed it to fade away, he said.

“Not only do we think there’s not a threat of the report going away, we think there’s a healthy appetite to have an even bigger and better picture for how police are employing force in our communities,” Boyack said.

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