Salt Lake County sheriff reluctantly supports disbanding the Unified Police Department

Rosie Rivera now supports HB374, which would dissolve the UPD in 2025.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera makes remarks at a swearing-in ceremony at Alta High School in Sandy, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera says she now supports a bill that seeks to disband the Unified Police Department.

At a news conference at the Utah Capitol, the sheriff announced her support HB374, which would dissolve the UPD in 2025. But her support is reluctant. The bill was advancing in the Legislature despite her past opposition to it.

“I have been put into a position, basically backed into a corner by political forces and there just is no easy path out,” Rivera told reporters Tuesday.

HB374 originally blocked the sheriff from her elected duties and simultaneously serving as CEO of the UPD. The sheriff said that while she felt she could educate critics about that issue, she was told by bill sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, that it would come back to the Legislature every year.

“This issue continually comes up because there is a conflict of interest when there’s a separate policing entity and the county sheriff that has countywide use,” Teuscher told FOX 13 News. “What this does is resets everything like it was before so that Salt Lake County handles its law enforcement like any other counties in the state.”

The UPD was created in 2009 by then-Sheriff Jim Winder, who envisioned a metro police force across the Salt Lake Valley. Through the years, the agency has had a rocky history of cities that jump in and out. Some complain that when other cities leave to form their own police department, costs increase and quality of service declines.

Teuscher said communities he represents — which aren’t even part of the UPD — were complaining they were still paying for the agency without any benefit.

“They were seeing countywide funds that were being given to the sheriff that were funneled to UPD that went to just support those areas of UPD,” he said. “So we had a real double-taxation issue in the southwest part of the valley.”

Rivera acknowledged some communities did not feel like they were getting a similar benefit as other communities under the UPD, but she added that there was little that could be done to make everyone happy.

“I chose not to oppose this bill,” she said, “because I have a responsibility to create long-term stability for public safety.”

The Utah Sheriffs’ Association said it supported Rivera and questioned if some of UPD’s critics wanted the power of the sheriff without the supervision of one.

“No one thought we’d end up in this situation, but here we are,” said Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, the head of the sheriffs’ association. “We agree with Sheriff Rivera that supporting the substitute bill is in the best interest of her community and employees.”

Midvale Mayor Marcus Stevenson, who heads UPD’s board, acknowledged his own community has flirted with leaving the agency. The board itself opposes HB374, and he feared it would harm many communities across the county.

“This is going to have really significant impacts to public safety,” the mayor said. “It’s going to have impacts to officer morale. This is going to have issues, if this passes, we are going to have to work through over the next two years.”

Teuscher denied backing the sheriff into a corner with the legislation but said it addresses real concerns communities have with the agency.

“If they want to have the sheriff provide policing services, they can do that,” he said. “If they want to have their own police force, they can do that. If they want to contract with another city’s police force, they can do that. It comes down to empowering communities to do what’s best for their city,.”

The bill was to appear in a House committee Wednesday morning. Rivera said that while backs the UPD model, she does envision a future agency that is different.

“I do see something different,” she said. “I see something different because we all came together and created it.”

This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aim to inform readers across the state.