There aren’t many career trajectories like Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera’s.
Fifteen-year-old mother. Onion field worker. Undercover narcotics officer. Sheriff of a million people.
And if her past is a tapestry, her present is a mosaic. The county sheriff oversees an amalgam of law enforcement in the Unified Police Department, the Salt Lake County Jail staff and the bailiff/security force for county courts and facilities.
Rivera has managed those pieces artfully in her first year of office, and she earns our endorsement for a four-year term.
Both the sheriff and her opponent, Lt. Justin Hoyal, who is also one of her employees, are pushing hard for more jail beds, noting that the county hasn’t built a new jail bed in almost two decades. In this age of criminal justice reform, we’re supposed to be finding better alternatives to incarceration, but both candidates are right that our fast-growing population makes it impossible to stand pat on jail beds.
If there is a difference, it’s that Rivera puts more emphasis on freeing up beds by keeping the mentally ill and substance abusers out of jail and in more appropriate settings.
The sharpest difference between the two may be over Rivera’s handling of cities leaving the Unified Police Department to form police departments of their own.
Hoyal blames Rivera for the defections, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Herriman was already headed to the door when Rivera took over from Jim Winder last year, and another city, Riverton, has put its exit on hold since Rivera took over and started working to make budgeting more transparent for the cities.
And before any more cities think about defecting, they may want to consider what Rivera has identified as one of the sheriff’s biggest challenges: hiring and retaining experienced people. Law enforcement is not attracting as many applicants as it once did. As a result, departments are raiding each other for staff. In addition to police officers, the lack of jail guards makes it tough to maintain the status quo, let alone add beds.
And in that Rivera has already been at work with the county council and the UPD’s advisory board to improve pay and benefits.
In a campaign that has produced few major policy differences between the candidates, there isn’t much incentive to toss out a successful incumbent. The story of Sheriff Rosie Rivera deserves more chapters.