Mayor Marcus Stevenson's Monthly Message (April 2023)
The Future of Law Enforcement in Our Community
On the last day of the Utah State Legislature’s 45-day legislative session, state lawmakers passed House Bill 374: County Sheriff Amendments, which requires significant changes to the Unified Police Department (UPD) by July 1, 2025. As a result, our community, as well as eight others, will need to go back to the drawing board and determine what we want the future of public safety to look like in our communities. In this month’s message, I hope to shed some light on how we got to this point and where we may go from here in order to provide efficient and effective law enforcement for our community.
Background & History
When the Unified Police Department was formed in 2009, it was in-part in hopes that this could be a model to create a countywide metro police department. However, its membership peaked at 13 entities – 6 cities, 6 townships, and 1 county. Since then, Herriman, Riverton, and most recently, Taylorsville, left UPD, which has required constant restructuring of the organization. The remaining members have worked hard to get the organization into a more stable place.
To make matters worse, for several years, outside groups have accused UPD members of being subsidized by the rest of the county. While UPD has tried to dispel these accusations and educate different groups about how UPD operates, these claims have come back year after year. In short, because the Salt Lake County Sheriff is the CEO of UPD and the Salt Lake County Council chooses to execute many of their law enforcement duties through the Unified Police Department, some believe that UPD member communities receive special treatment and a monetary subsidy from the county to the detriment of non-UPD communities. Through years of looking into this issue, no evidence has ever shown that UPD members receive this subsidy, but unfortunately, perception can become reality.
That brings us to last November, when State Representative Jordan Teuscher (R-South Jordan) announced that he would be running a bill to remove the Salt Lake County Sheriff as the CEO of the Unified Police Department. It was clear that by removing the sheriff as CEO, this would have created significant, and complicated, impacts on how the organization operates. After several groups voiced their concern to Representative Teuscher, he changed the bill to its current form, which included technical changes to give a two-year implementation timeline for the impacted communities and added additional protections for officers. While the three UPD cities stayed opposed to the bill, the change was supported by the Salt Lake County Sheriff, who felt that getting two years to make the change was the best deal we’d ever get, and the six townships took a neutral position. After that, this new language was quickly approved by the legislature.
Our Options Moving Forward
As I see it, our city has three basic options that could be explored in how to move forward to ensure the best law enforcement possible for our community: create our own police department, create a new shared-services model, or contract with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office. While each of these options vary considerably, I’ll do my best to quickly outline what those could look like.
Create Our Own Police Department
Put simply, our city could go back to how it operated before joining the Unified Police Department. Our officers would be Midvale City employees and their cars would say “Midvale City Police” on them. While this option would provide the most cost control and local control of our department, it would also likely lower the amount of services that we can provide, and reduce savings provided by the shared-services model.
Create a New Shared-Services Model
The Unified Police Department is based on a “shared-services model,” meaning that we share specialized services such as SWAT, homicide & special victims' detectives, records retention, etc. among the UPD member communities. While there are still many unanswered questions about how this new model would work, and which entities would be part of a new model, current UPD member entities could continue to work together, reforming the current organization. This model takes away some cost control and local control, but provides economies of scale, which saves money, while providing a greater breadth of services.
Contract with the Salt Lake County Sheriff
In contracting with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office, Midvale would not have governing authority over the department, like we see in the other two models, which means it would provide the least amount of local control. However, this would likely be the cheapest option that we have available to us. Instead of Midvale or Unified branded cars and uniforms, we would see “Sheriff” throughout our community. This is often the option that smaller communities must use, because they do not have enough resources to fund their own department.
What Else is at Play
First, while the UPD board members have stated that they are interested in continuing to share services, there are a lot of questions about how the current member entities could continue to work together in the absence of the Sheriff. To find the right model for policing in our city, our City Council and I will be working with the UPD board, our officers, and our residents throughout this process, as we balance cost, local control, and service levels to determine the best option for our community.
Second, with just over two years to figure out what we are going to do for policing in our community, we have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. To make the best decision possible for public safety in Midvale, we need to take the next several months to gather information so our city leadership can make the most informed decision. We need to look at our options, such as what does a shared-service model look like with more or fewer members, how would we start a department on our own, and ultimately, what is going to be the best decision for protecting our community in both the short and long term.
Third, as I’m sure you can tell, we have many issues to figure out. While I plan to keep our community, and our officers, as up to date on this process as I can, things are moving quickly. Just in the time of writing this message, the UPD board determined a goal to have this process finalized by July 1, 2024, so we can get answers to our communities, officers, and civilian staff as quickly, and responsibly, as possible. Just know that the city staff and elected officials in Midvale, and all UPD communities, are doing everything we can to find, and provide, answers in this process.