Jim Winder will step down as Moab police chief, return to Salt Lake County

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

Former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says he will return to Salt Lake County and get a new job, although it’s too soon to say what that new post might be.

“I’m looking at couple of options,” he said Tuesday, a day after announcing that he would step down as Moab’s police chief — a post he has held since 2017.

“We’re turning the rig around,” he said. While he didn’t give a specific date of departure, leaving Moab is bittersweet. “It’s a mixed blessing,” he said, “We’ve loved it here and when we came, we thought it was going to be more permanent.”

Recent events with his family, however, have prompted the move. Winder’s son was accepted to the Utah Military Academy in Lehi; and the family’s attempts to purchase property in Moab — so their daughter could pursue an interest in horses — never worked out.

“The cost are too high,” Winder said, noting that outdoor enthusiasts and retirees are pricing middle-class residents out of the market. Many of his officers have had a similar problem finding housing.

Winder said he will remain in Moab until the city names a replacement. He also needs to tie up a few loose ends — namely, the department is in the middle of a fleet change and is finalizing its 2019-20 budget.

While he plans to go back to work once he returns to the Wasatch Front, Winder acknowledges that it won’t be with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. In August, at the height of the 2018 election, Winder blasted his successor, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, for a lack of leadership related to the Unified Police Department.

Winder went to the southeastern Utah redrock community in 2017 after stepping down from one of the largest law-enforcement agencies in the state, trading 2,000 employees for a force of 19 officers.

Before he showed up, Moab had been searching for a new police chief for seven months. The previous one, Mike Navarre, left after allegations that some members of the force had crashed teenagers’ parties, confiscated their marijuana and played beer pong with them. All those accused of misconduct have since stepped down or been fired.

The city needed a replacement who could come in and restructure the department, reintroduce accountability, and reinforce the rules. Winder’s experience working to resolve homelessness in the state’s capital launched him to the top of the list. He was offered the job with a unanimous City Council vote.

Since taking over, Winder has created a new reporting structure for officers, changed how evidence is handled and streamlined the review of domestic violence cases.

He focused resources on specific areas, too. The city now has full-time school resource officer, a full-time victim advocate and traffic specialist — something that will come in handy during the next two weeks when Moab’s population swells, first for the annual Jeep Safari and then the April Action Car Show.

“I’m not happy about leaving,” he said, “but I’m happy that some of issues that plagued the department are gone.”

That is why Winder has encouraged city officials to promote someone from within the department to replace him. “I’m suggesting that they go internal,” he said. “The department had a rough patch, but it has progressed, and we’ve moved past that.”