New training for police on sex assault, domestic violence and LGBT issues

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SANDY -- The agency that certifies and disciplines all police officers in Utah plans to implement new training protocols on rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Corrections officers will be given specific training on inmates who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

The Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training Council voted on Thursday to approve the new curriculum that will begin in the state's police academies before being rolled out statewide to all certified officers. The training will include better ways to interview victims of rape and sex abuse, and alternative methods to get domestic violence victims help.

"Anything that we can do to help victims out, to get out of that relationship," said Utah POST Lt. Wade Breur.

Nearly half of all murders in Utah are committed by an intimate partner, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. It is more than the national average of 30 percent. Utah POST Director Scott Stephenson said officers can do more.

"We give them the paperwork and we drive away. We let them know the resources and then we're done," he told FOX 13. "I think law enforcement, at least in Utah, have identified that's not enough."

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition has collaborated with POST to help find better ways to assess a situation involving a victim, including a "lethality assessment" if someone is in danger of being killed.

Meanwhile, POST Council voted to approve course training for corrections officers on working with LGBT offenders. Prisons are seeing more and more people who identify as LGBT, and the training will provide officers better ways of communicating and dealing with them.

"Our attempt is not to change anyone's belief regarding our LGBTI offenders, but more to suspend their beliefs or judgments to talk effectively with these offenders," said Kirk Christensen, the director of training for the Utah Department of Corrections.

Topics range from gender nonconforming inmates to prison rape. The Utah Department of Corrections said it does not have a specific policy on LGBT inmates, but is working to integrate the new training into existing policies. In the past month, the state recently contracted with a psychologist who specializes in transgender evaluations, said Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Adams.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it supported the prison training.

"Any training that truly creates more humane and fair treatment of LGBT inmates - any inmates at all, in fact - is a positive step," said Anna Brower with the ACLU of Utah. "Hopefully the state at large will follow this effort by taking compliance with PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) more seriously, for the safety of our family members, friends and neighbors who are behind bars in Utah."

In recent months, Utah's police academies have begun putting more emphasis on mental health and crisis training for officers. Stephenson said it was about providing good service to all members of the community.

"Empathy is a huge word in this academy. There will be some officers who say, 'I'm not a social worker, I'm a cop,'" he told FOX 13. "Well, being a police officer in America, in Utah, you are a social worker, a psychologist. You're a positive force, however momentary it may be, in that person's life in that moment."

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