Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal challenges his boss in election for Salt Lake County sheriff

The election is nearly a year away but the sheriff’s race is heating up.<br>

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Unified Police Dept. Lt. Justin Hoyal announces he will run for county sheriff as a Republican Thursday Nov. 30.

Unified Police Department Lt. Justin Hoyal on Thursday said he’ll seek the Republican nomination to challenge his boss — Utah’s first-ever female sheriff Rosie Rivera — for the job of Salt Lake County sheriff in 2018.

Hoyal launched his campaign outside the county’s jail surrounded by dozens of family members, friends and political allies, including Salt Lake County County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan.

If elected, Hoyal said he will bring a “smart on crime” approach to leading the sheriff’s office that creates strong relationships with other departments and balances incarceration with effective mental health and substance-abuse programming to increase public safety across the Salt Lake valley.

“We have to look at public safety matters from more than one point of view,” he told supporters.

Hoyal’s remarks made no specific reference to Rivera, who on Nov. 12 moved the department veteran out of his job as chief deputy over protective services to the lieutenant supervising the county’s dispatch center.

Hoyal said he didn’t know why Rivera, a Democrat who was appointed sheriff in August after the departure of former Sheriff Jim Winder, used her discretion to change his assignment.

In a text message, Rivera declined an immediate comment on her decision, but said she knew Hoyal had been planning a run for office. “I’m disappointed that someone from our own office wants to oppose what I am doing as sheriff,” wrote Rivera, who kicked off her own 2018 campaign two weeks ago.

“Regardless, I am going to continue accomplishing the goals I have set for myself.”

Hoyal, who has worked for UPD for more than 21 years, insists his campaign is not a “Justin v. Rosie” proposition and said he wants his campaign to remain positive and focused on public safety and supporting the roughly 2,000 employees that serve the department, from patrolling the streets to guarding the jail.

“Whether it’s the current sheriff or somebody else, I think what it ultimately comes down to is my leadership abilities, the partnerships that I have throughout this county,” he said. “And that’s what’s critical.”

Hoyal told reporters the sheriff’s post seems like the natural next step in his career and that he had been considering a run for about 18 months.

During his tenure with the UPD, Hoyal has served in a variety of roles, including patrol deputy, robbery and homicide detective, public information officer and investigation supervisor. He was also a founding member of the Child Abduction Response Team and was more recently tapped to work on the planning and implementation of Operation Rio Grande, the state and local effort to combat lawlessness and address the problems of homelessness in downtown Salt Lake City.

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, center, discusses "Operation Rio Grande" plans with The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday, August 14, 2017. Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal, left, and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, right, listen.

Hoyal’s work on Operation Rio Grande has earned him the support of Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who praised Hoyal’s work as a “dedicated public servant committed to long-term solutions,” and the “right person to move the sheriff’s office forward.”

Councilwoman Newton offered similar praise, saying she met Hoyal in 2012 after a Bennion Jr. High School student’s suicide on a skybridge at 6200 South and 2700 West. Newton was then the public information officer for the city of Taylorsville; Hoyal was doing the same job for UPD and coordinated the response from the city, the school district and the department.

“He has a knack for building relationships and working with people,” Winder said. “This is a critical skill set that we need in our sheriff.”