After more than two decades of service, Colleen Jacobs is now the chief of Utah’s second-largest city’s police department. And she is one of the few women in the state in such a position.
Jacobs cleared her final hurdle in the hiring process Tuesday night after the City Council ratified her appointment. She has filled in as head of the department since Sept. 8, when Police Chief Lee Russo retired.
Another woman who leads a police force in Utah is Jean Loveland, the chief of police for the city of Willard, in Box Elder County.
“Rising to the level of executive leadership in law enforcement is a highlight in any person’s career,” Jacobs said Tuesday. “To be a part of an increasing trend of women in law enforcement ... it’s really an honor and a privilege.”
Jacobs has spent her entire 21-year career with West Valley City police, serving in roles ranging from patrol officer to deputy chief.
During a news conference Tuesday, City Manager Wayne Pyle said he’s known Jacobs since she was a patrol officer.
“I remember being impressed even back then as to how great an officer, how skilled and confident she was, and so I’m very excited and happy to have her here in this position,” Pyle said.
The appointment came after a three-month nationwide recruiting process that included 10 candidates. Jacobs made it to the top three, rounded out by another Utah officer and a third from out of state.
Being the only in-house finalist — and having the experience and knowledge of the department that came with her tenure — set Jacobs apart.
“Having someone like Colleen — who knows the troops, she knows the department, she knows the city, she is a local candidate — that puts her that much further ahead of the game,” Pyle said.
A Utah native, Jacobs attended Tooele High School before graduating from Weber State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
As chief, she is in her seventh position with the department. She has seen it in various iterations, including under the direction of Thayle ”Buzz” Nielsen, who ran the department during a period of controversy, including the fatal 2013 shooting of an unarmed woman by two police detectives.
Nielsen retired in 2013 and was replaced by out-of-towner Lee Russo, who worked to reshape the department’s image. Pyle said at the time of the hire, an outsider like Russo was the right person for the job, and he succeeded in changing the community’s perception of the department.
But now, he said, a local is the right fit. Jacobs said she wants to continue to develop the community relationships Russo built, and that the department is on the right trajectory.
But she said there is room for growth.
“The Police Department currently is on the cutting edge of how we as a agency deal with our citizens in a mental health crisis,” she said. Jacobs added that she wants to emphasize proper interaction with people who have mental health problems.
Jacobs, along with Loveland and Rosie Rivera, who in August was named the state’e first female sheriff, is part of a new wave of women in law enforcement leadership.
“Hopefully I am able to set a good example for young officers, other supervisors and hopefully even young women looking to get into law enforcement,” Jacobs said. “There is no glass ceiling.”
Correction: Feb. 21, 10:05 a.m. >> An earlier version of this story said newly appointed West Valley City police chief Colleen Jacobs was believed to be Utah's only female police chief. There is at least one other: Jean Loveland, the chief of police for Willard, in Box Elder County.