At a candidate forum in Sandy on Thursday, the six law enforcement officers in the race to become the next Salt Lake County sheriff said they support the legalization of medical marijuana, but that Utah might not be ready for recreational use of the drug.
Activists launched an effort in June to put the issue on Utah’s 2018 ballot in hopes of bypassing the state’s conservative Legislature, which has resisted legalization for the past three years.
Many states have legalized the drug to help people with cancer and other chronic medical conditions ease their pain.
Five of the six candidates said the drug should be legalized, particularly if the people of Utah vote to do so. “I am the father of four,” said candidate Fred Ross, chief of the Utah Transit Authority police force. “If anyone of them needed it to increase the betterment of their lives, I’d give up my gun and my badges to make sure they had the right treatment.”
Candidates Steve Anjewierden, Ken Hansen, Levi Hughes and Rosie Rivera agreed, and they said recreational use will eventually come to Utah.
Only candidate Matani Manatau did not offer outright support.
“I never have used marijuana,” Manatau, a former corrections officer and police officer, said before leaning into his microphone to joke: “I hear it’s fun.”
But he, like the others, said that if the people of Utah want legalization and vote to make it happen, he would defend that choice.
The question was the last asked during the two-hour forum at Salt Lake Community College’s Larry H. Miller Campus in Sandy — a fitting site because Miller was a longtime advocate for Utah police.
The candidates, each with a record of police work in Utah, are running to replace Democratic Sheriff Jim Winder, who resigned last month to become the Moab police chief.
By law, the 1,100 members of Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s Central Committee get to select the interim sheriff.
Voting is slated for Aug. 12, and the winner’s name will be submitted to the Salt Lake County Council for confirmation.
The interim sheriff will serve until the end of Winder’s term, which runs through next year.
More than 100 members of the Central Committee packed an auditorium at Salt Lake Community in Sandy to ask the candidates questions generated by its various caucuses.
The queries focused on some of the county’s biggest issues, including immigration, domestic, veterans and homelessness.
The problem of overcrowding at the county jail — one of the issues that Winder said led to his departure — was front and center on the Thursday agenda.
It’s not a new problem, the candidates noted. The jail was overcrowded within 21 days of its opening in 2000, Hansen said, but locking more people up isn’t a solution.
Hansen, a Unified Police Department detective, suggested that the jail should have a receiving center to assess individuals and connect them with services like mental health care and drug treatment as soon as they walk in the door.
Others agreed: “We need to triage the problems people have so we can stop the cycle of people returning to jail,” said Anjewierden, a retired UPD chief of police services in Kearns.
Hughes, a UPD sergeant, said addiction should be treated as a disease, not as a reason to send someone to jail.
“We have to change our mindset,” he said. “Don’t build more jails — build more opportunities.”
Each of the six said part of the solution is to find more beds, and most advocated for the opening of two additional pods — about 370 beds — at the Oxbow jail, which would cost the county about $9 million.
On his way out of office, Winder told the County Council it needed to raise property taxes to expand the number of available jail beds
Rivera, a deputy chief of police services, said communities need to be willing to help pay for more jail space to help keep the community safe, just as they might buy a security system to protect their own homes.
“Oxbow offers the best solution,” she said.
If selected, Rivera would be the first woman to serve as sheriff in Utah’s most populous county.
The following are short biographies of the candidates:
Steve Anjewierden: A 25-year veteran of police work, Anjewierden began his career as a corrections officer at the Salt Lake County jail in 1991. As a police officer, he worked in the patrol unit, as a detective and as a member of the Metro Gang Unit. He retired from the Unified Police Department in 2017 after serving as the chief of police services for the Kearns and Magna areas. A graduate of Columbia College, he has also served on the state’s juvenile justice board and its policy committee.
Ken Hansen: Hansen has worked in Utah law enforcement agencies for more than 40 years, including in the Salt Lake City Police Department, where he started the Metro Gang Unit, and on the statewide gang conference. Later, he was an investigator for the Utah attorney general’s office. Hansen helped start the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force; he worked against elder abuse and taxpayer fraud, leading the Medicaid fraud unit. Hansen is a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, in which he worked as a nurse.
Levi Hughes: Hughes has been with the Unified Police Department since 2003. His assignments have included serving as a patrol officer, as a sergeant and as a member of the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team, a collaborative unit of state, local and federal officers. Hughes runs the UPD ankle-monitoring program, which tracks and supports individuals who are released from jail but are under supervision.
Matani Manatau: Manatau has worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years. A graduate of Salt Lake Community College and Brigham Young University, with a degree in criminal justice, he has worked as a corrections officer for the Utah State Prison, as a Salt Lake County constable and as a West Valley City police officer.
Rosie Rivera: Rivera has worked in law enforcement for 24 years. After working at Weber State University, she went to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office in 1994. Over the span of Rivera’s career, she has worked as a patrol deputy, a detective, a public information officer and a lieutenant in the patrol division. She left the department to help Taylorsville build its police agency in 2005; she came back to the county when the city merged with Unified Police Department in 2012. Since 2015, Rivera has been the deputy chief of police services for the Riverton area.
Fred Ross: Ross has been a police officer for 28 years. He was a deputy chief and executive officer for the Salt Lake City Police Department for four years. In 1997 he was named the National Community Policing Officer of the Year and has been recognized for his service to numerous Salt Lake Valley community and youth groups. Ross is the chief of the Utah Transit Authority’s police department.