Townships now neutral on amended bill to dismantle Unified Police

Feb 19, 2023, 11:15 AM | Updated: Oct 26, 2023, 1:21 pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill to dismantle the Unified Police Department after adopting an amendment to protect officers employed by the force Friday.

HB374, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, would end the Unified force by July 1, 2025, giving cities and townships that use the force until then to find law enforcement alternatives.

Although several mayors of townships and cities that contract with Unified Police spoke against the bill earlier this week, some changed their tune after Teuscher amended the bill to protect current Unified officers who transfer to the county sheriff’s office before July 1, 2025.

Under the new version, Unified police officers employed as of May 3, 2023, will retain employment protections that exist in Utah code.

With the amendment, the metro townships of Copperton, Kearns and Magna are now neutral on the bill, Teuscher said. A house spokeswoman said Teuscher has not heard from the metro townships of White City and Emigration Canyon about where they stand on the latest version of the bill.

Kearns Mayor Kelly Bush said she remains opposed to efforts to dismantle the Unified Police Department and “will continue to track HB374 with concern.” However, she agreed to take a neutral stance on the amended bill.

“Kearns supported the recent amendment to protect the Unified police officers and agreed to stay neutral with that amendment included on the bill,” Bush stated.

Copperton officials also released a statement expressing ongoing concern with the legislation.

“Copperton is concerned about HB374 as written because it would dissolve UPD before a replacement law enforcement model is created,” the statement said. “Copperton, however, could support the bill if it were amended to remove the deadline on UPD’s dissolution and to provide adequate time for Copperton and other interested parties to develop a mutually acceptable law enforcement model.”

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, who spoke in opposition to the bill, released a statement Friday saying he supports creating a “Unified Police Department 2.0” with other cities following the dissolution of the department. HB374 would not prevent cities from entering into interlocal law enforcement agreements akin to Unified police, it just ends the arrangement currently in place.

Teuscher argues that Salt Lake County residents who live in cities that have their own police forces are taxed twice, once for their municipal police and once for the Unified Police Department. He said the bill would “reset what things were before (the department) was created and treat Salt Lake County like every other county in the state.”

Rep. Anthony Loubet, R-Kearns, said he was initially opposed to the bill, and still has some reservations about its potential impacts on the metro townships. In addition to concerns about the officers, Loubet told KSL.com Saturday he has questions about costs and funding for law enforcement in metro townships.

Loubet said one of his biggest concerns is that the metro townships won’t be able to stand up their own departments, and will potentially receive lower priority for emergency responses if they contract with other departments for services.

“Prior to Unified, there were issues with sometimes having 30- or 40-minute plus response times in emergencies,” he said. “The nice thing with Unified is that we have local precincts here in Magna and Kearns, so response times were a lot faster.”

He voted for the bill after it was amended, in order to protect the officers currently employed by the Unified Police Department.

“We depend greatly, in our area, on these men and women,” Loubet said.

HB374 passed 57-11.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that Copperton, Kearns and Magna supported HB374 after it was amended. The metro townships are neutral on the bill.

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Townships now neutral on amended bill to dismantle Unified Police