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Unified no more: Herriman to withdraw from UPD

May 21, 2018 05:15PM ● Published by Travis Barton

Herriman City Council voted to withdraw from the Unified Police Department. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com

It was a decision that boiled down to cost and control for Herriman officials.

Herriman City Council voted unanimously to withdraw from the Unified Police Department during its May 16 city council meeting. City leaders plan to create their own police force and possibly withdraw from UPD by July 1. Troy Carr, the city’s precinct chief under UPD was named chief of the Herriman City Police Department May 21. 

While the council members voiced their appreciation and satisfaction with its current crop of UPD officers, they also cited a lack of transparency and unresponsiveness with UPD, overpaying for minimal officer presence and a desire to better control its law enforcement distribution as reasons for the withdrawal. 

“Were extremely happy with our officers,” said Councilman Jared Henderson, who serves as  Herriman’s representative on the UPD board. “But there is a difference between the [officers] that we appreciate and the job that they do and the level of service that we receive for what were paying for. There’s a huge difference.” 

Henderson, along with the rest of the council and city staff, made it clear during the meeting that there is no dissatisfaction with the officers, just that there “aren’t enough of them” for the cost they’re paying. 

Herriman Finance Director Alan Rae explained they should have 18 officers in the city, but currently operate at 13.5. “We paid for five officers last year that we didn’t get.”

City projections showed almost $5 million that goes toward UPD versus the $4.5 that it would cost for Herriman’s own police force. Councilmembers said they overpay almost $1 million with that expected to jump to $2 million over the next fiscal year (that starts July 1).

“I cannot justify spending an extra $2 million a year when we can’t even get the officers here,” Mayor David Watts said. “I can justify spending an extra few hundred thousand dollars a year to pay the officers more so that we have them on our streets.”

Under the current model, Herriman has its own UPD precinct where officers can be pulled from other cities in emergency cases and vice versa. But with a limited number of officers on duty, it makes for what Councilman Clint Smith described as “reactive” rather than “proactive” policing. 

While UPD officials said they were surprised by the decision, the withdrawal decision was perhaps foreshadowed by the council’s choice to leave SLVLESA, Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Services Area, in August 2017. This was due to the amount of money put into the SLVLESA fund without getting proper services in return, almost the exact same reason for the city’s withdrawal from UPD. 

City officials said by moving to their own department, they would have 31 sworn officers and control over law enforcement decisions because they’d be financially responsible and not paying for officers that aren’t available.

Council members citing examples why the council wanted to leave UPD: payment was made, essentially twice, for brand-new police vehicles, and those vehicles were never ordered, Watts said. Henderson said emails and requests for meetings to address their concerns went unanswered for long periods of time. And some specific questions were never answered.

Henderson said it started to reach a point of no return with the city’s budget to be approved in June and a general desire from the council to not overpay for its police service (quantity, not quality) for another year. Councilmembers felt that would be irresponsible to taxpayers.

It also felt like Herriman had no voice on the UPD board, Henderson said, often being outvoted or ignored altogether.

“To put it bluntly, I feel like we were getting pushed in the corner, and they take our lunch money and we’re like, ‘see you next time,’” he said. “We’re at the point where we’re ready to say enough. We’re going to take control; we’re not going to put up with that kind of treatment anymore.”

Though city officials have discussed their problems with UPD and possible withdrawal for some time, for UPD officials and residents, it was a shock. Residents said they didn’t hear about possible withdrawal until seeing it on Facebook the night before. All residents, and a few police officers, spoke against withdrawal at the May 16 meeting highlighting the quality service they’ve received. 

Resident Eric Deets said he guaranteed the city’s budget would double in five years if it created its own police department. 

“If we have such good service, which we do, let’s work with UPD,” he said. “Let’s get the problems fixed. Lets’ improve the service that we have and go from there.”

Regional policing is more effective than sticking to city limits, said Jeremy Anderson.

“I’m really disturbed by how quickly we’ve decided to go after this issue,” he said prior to the vote. “The fact that there is chatter that this is already a done decision, is really disturbing to me.”

Sgt. Duane Jensen works in Herriman and lives in Sandy. He highlighted other cities such as Taylorsville, who returned to UPD, or Cottonwood Heights, where officials are considering cutting its force, as warning signs to starting its own police department.

“It’s a big mistake,” he said. “I’ve seen this movie before, and I know how it ends. I think you’re making a decision based on emotion rather than sitting down and looking at the facts. 

Herriman resident and Salt Lake City Sgt. Brian Sloan said with the statewide officer shortage, it’ll be difficult for Herriman to court experienced police officers “unless you’re willing to pay crazy amounts of money.”

Watts later said he was willing to pay top dollar for police officers.

Salt Lake County Sherriff Rosie Rivera said she inherited some issues within the department, and the current cost model was created by previous board members who no longer serve. Her main priority was the safety of Herriman residents and said she was willing to help with the city’s transition to its own police force. 

“We do believe that we need to keep a good partnership,” she said. “Public safety is our concern. How we get there, how you pay for public safety—that can all be worked out.” 

Chair of the UPD Board and Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini was more blunt with the city council. 

“We wish you would stay, and we believe you’re making a monumental mistake,” he said. “If you want to leave UPD, go with the Lord on that, that’s your decision. But please, please do this in a logical way.”

Silvestrini was referring to Herriman potentially leaving UPD by July 1.

“Public safety is too important to make this kind of a decision so precipitously, so abruptly,” he said. “Give us some time; we’ll work with you to do what you want to do.”

Silvestrini had other concerns too, such as the city’s ability to create a police department by July 1 and what it does to the other participating townships and cities in UPD.

“Your decision to leave UPD is essentially like throwing a hand grenade into the room with respect to the UPD budget,” he said. “And to the extent that’s going to affect our city budgets, you’re throwing more hand grenades into your sister jurisdictions council rooms, and that’s not the right way you should do this.”

But Councilwoman Sherrie Ohrn said that doesn’t make sense because it would be Herriman’s money being withdrawn, “unless our money is used to subsidize other cities.”

City officials said there are contingencies in place for police coverage in case they do sever ties completely by July 1, but that’s not what they want. Henderson said they received threats in a meeting the day before the vote to withdraw from a top UPD official, but said there are a “number of scenarios where we can have a transition that works for everyone.”

“If we are met with the threats and vitriol we got yesterday then we will leave July 1 for the betterment of Herriman,” he later continued. “We have planned for that scenario. I’s not ideal; we don’t want to do it that way. But if they force us to, then we’re prepared to.”

 

UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, Herriman City announced the chief of police for their new police department.

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