Unified Police Department could be eliminated under new proposed bill

Feb 13, 2023, 5:09 PM | Updated: Feb 14, 2023, 4:59 pm
A proposed bill would nix the Unified Police Department....
A Unified Police uniform is pictured in Kearns on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

Here’s what Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera had to say on Tuesday about H.B. 374, a bill that would repeal a section of Utah law that allowed for the creation of the Unified Police Department.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill being run in the Utah legislature would get rid of Unified Police Department, and force the cities that use its services to either contract with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office or create their own police agencies.

Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, confirmed to KSL NewsRadio that a substitute version of H.B. 374 would repeal the section of Utah law that allowed for the creation of Unified Police. 

“And that would go into effect in July of 2025,” he said. 

What the lawmaker proposing the bill says

Teuscher argues that for cities that have their own police agency, like in the case of the area he represents in South Jordan, the county sheriff has a “conflict of interest” because she’s also the CEO of UPD.

The current Salt Lake County Sherrif is Rosie Rivera

“[She] has different goals and objectives than what the entire county is looking for,” Teuscher said.

And he argued that Utahns in those areas with their own police agencies, like his, are being double taxed. 

“They’re paying for resources that are going to their city taxes for policing activities, but then they’re paying their county taxes that are going to provide services that they never see in the southwest part of the valley.”

UPD was created in 2010. This major shakeup to policing in Salt Lake County would impact the cities of Copperton, Holladay, Kearns, Midvale, Magna, and Millcreek, plus the canyons of Big and Little Cottonwood, Parleys, Lambs, Emigration, and Butterfield. All of these areas contract with or are policed by Unified. 

Big crimes in small cities

Retired UPD Deputy Chief Chris Bertram called the move “not effective” for collaborative policing and said it could also jeopardize public safety.

“There are cities and other unincorporated areas in this valley who have decided that [UPD] is their model…and to take that option away is unfortunately short-sided,” he said.

Bertram worked for the Salt Lake County Sherrif’s office for 25 years, including as a captain when the Sherrif’s Office switched over to UPD. He served on a governance board when the changeover was happening.

“When you have those larger organizations like UPD, you have the ability to specialize, and to provide higher-end law enforcement services that can’t be provided by a single city,” he said.

He cited things like homicide, sex crimes, domestic violence, and other specialized units.

“Those cost more if you want to have it at the level that UPD has it,” Bertram said.

It remains to be seen how much more it would cost cities to run their own police departments or contract with the Sherrif’s Office, versus what they’re paying now to contract with UPD. 

“To self-provide [policing] costs more, there are economies of scale,” Bertram said. 

Teuscher acknowledged that cities have concerns.

“[They worry] how do we ensure that we continue to have public safety, that we’re taken care of, that it’s not overly burdensome for our areas, and I think [Sherrif Rivera] has a good solution to that in providing directly the policing services like they did before UPD existed. ”

Sherrif Rivera was not willing to provide comment to KSL NewsRadio until the substitute language of Teuscher’s bill was made public, at the time of this writing it wasn’t. She provided the following statement via text:

UPD provides outstanding service to our communities. Our office has been under political attack for the last five years and it’s taking a toll on our employees and the communities they serve. I am committed to bring stability to Public Safety in Salt Lake County and I believe in consolidation of service saves tax payers dollars. I am committed to providing the best public safety to our communities regardless of the outcome this legislative session.

Countywide policing

Bertram said there are positions funded by the Sheriff’s Office that provide countywide services. He said that if citizens are being double taxed, as Tesucher claimed, there are ways to solve for that. 

“If there are other specific items that [the legislature] believes are county-wide, that aren’t being delivered — you know a DEA task force or FBI task force member — then go in there and look at those specific issues,” he said. “Divide the money up for those positions,” he said.

“I think you’ll find there’s not a lot of positions [like that], and that money is effectively being used on county-wide issues.”

But Bertram called it “disingenuous”.

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Unified Police Department could be eliminated under new proposed bill