Trent Staggs: Riverton seeks the power of local solutions with its own police department

Courtesy | Unified Police Department Police investigating an alleged homicide attempt in Holladay on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.

Public safety is the primary role of government. The people we represent must be ensured they are safe in the pursuit of life, liberty and property.

As an elected official, that is my focus and my goal. I ran for office knowing I had the necessary experience to innovate, and find solutions that could make government more accountable, transparent and fiscally responsible.

By and large, my experience with Salt Lake County-led organizations shows they provide less efficient and more expensive services than what a local municipality can offer. Additionally, they too often hold to a rigid, one-size-fits-all ideology, unwilling or unable to innovate.

Riverton’s experience with both the Salt Lake County-led taxing entity known as Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area (SLVLESA) and Unified Police Department (UPD) illustrate this point clearly. Riverton’s decision to leave SLVLESA, the county-wide taxing authority for funding law enforcement, at the end of 2017 and replace it with our own Riverton Law Enforcement Service Area, has now proven to save Riverton property taxpayers approximately $1 million.

Furthermore, Riverton’s decision to leave UPD on July 1 and create our own Riverton Police Department has allowed us to add nine more officers to our precinct for less than what we would have paid UPD in this next fiscal year. This is an increase in value of some $1.3 million to Riverton residents, all while paying officers 10% more than UPDs own compensation schedule.

The decision to leave UPD was not a reflection on the services provided by the individual officers or for political purposes. It was simply based on Riverton’s ability to provide better financial and service benefits to our residents. Benefits vetted through diligent research and public debate. Increasing our sworn officer count by 35% and doing so with the incredibly experienced officers we were able to hire, is already demonstrating better levels of service. Not only did we save the community money while increasing services, we have also built a department that is committed exclusively to the residents of Riverton.

During this last budget process, the UPD Board of Directors has been faced by ever-increasing expenses and struggled to find a way to comfortably give market raises to their officers. The collective model of UPD has demonstrated its inability to stay competitive in the current market, but both Herriman and Riverton have been able to raise staffing and officer salaries to be highly competitive in the current economic climate, while reducing the tax burden on their communities.

From the outset, the entire concept of UPD was to have each member community be responsible for their individual costs, resulting in some economies of scale and regional benefit that could lower costs and improve services for their members over what they could provide on their own. For Riverton, this has not proven to be the case.

Unfortunately, some in the UPD organization are blaming their financial hardship and difficulty with offering competitive officer pay on the departure of Riverton and Herriman. This is false. Because it was supposed to be set up where each member paid its own share of costs, the withdrawal of one shouldn’t negatively impact remaining members. Any difficulties in finances with the organization are a direct reflection of the mismanagement, and resistance to fix their organizational, administrative and fiscal issues that have plagued UPD for several years. Previous leadership and executive staff have resisted repeated calls by Riverton for greater transparency, accountability and organizational change.

Salt Lake County’s municipalities need to trust their local solutions. They, too, can generally create the best possible outcome for their residents and their officers. I know the mayors and councilors on the UPD board want what is best for their residents and are attempting to find solutions. I would encourage them to either aggressively reform the service model, or find local solutions that will serve their residents best. The keys to transparency and efficiency are local solutions, not outdated county control.

Trent Staggs is the mayor of Riverton.