SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Dangerous weapons in Utah schools was the topic of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office presentation during a committee hearing Wednesday at the State Capitol.
Will Carlson, Chief Policy Advisor for the Justice Division of the DA’s office, presented data to demonstrate the prevalence of the problem in our state.
One of the slides showed that the percentage of Utah high school students who carried a weapon on school property in the last 30 days is just above seven percent, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is higher than the national average.
“What we know based on the data is that weapons are still in our schools and that kids are still bringing weapons to schools and kids feel unsafe because they know weapons are in the schools,” said Carlson.
In spite of this, Carlson says the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t screened any cases regarding weapons in Salt Lake County schools since 2017.
“That discrepancy is something that the legislature didn’t intend and they need to address,” the chief policy advisor told ABC4 News, referring to House Bill 239.
The bill was passed in 2017 with the goal to focus resources of the juvenile justice system on the highest risk individuals. Carlson says HB 239 has led to cases not being screened by prosecutors.
“Even when they did that, the sponsor of that legislation said, when it comes to weapons in schools, that is a kind of case that a prosecutor needs to screen. So it’s very disconcerting that since 2017, no case has been sent to us for screening.”
During the public comment period of the committee hearing, Pam Vickrey said even with the implementation of House Bill 239, numbers for the Utah Juvenile Attorney’s Office have stayed consistent from 2015-2019.
“Whether those are, as we said, older charges, or whether we’re classifying them differently is something that we need to look at,” said the executive director.
“The point for today was to establish that as long as we’ve decided weapons shouldn’t be in schools, how should we make that happen? And prosecutors need to play a role in that,” Carlson said.
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