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Mayor Marcus Stevenson's Message (May 2024)

A Reorganized Unified Police Department

In April of last year, I wrote about a new state law that required our community to go back to the drawing board for policing in our community, as it removed the Salt Lake County Sheriff as the Unified Police Department (UPD) CEO, creating uncertainty about the future of our police department. Early last year, my fellow UPD board members appointed me as the chair of UPD to oversee this process, where we have worked tirelessly to better understand what this legislation meant and how we could move forward in a way that best protected our community’s public safety, officers, and tax dollars.

As we started this process, our city recognized that we had three options for policing:

  • Create our own Midvale City Police Department – this would provide the most local control, allowing our city to fully oversee the law enforcement operations, such as the budget, policies, police chief, etc. However, this option also comes with hard realities regarding cost and service levels. We could not provide the same service levels we currently see without overburdening our residents with cost.
  • Reorganize the Unified Police Department – this would provide the highest level of service at the least amount of cost, but we would see less local control than we would have with a Midvale police department. Sharing a police department with other communities means we see greater service levels and cost savings from sharing administrative and specialty unit costs, such as human resources and SWAT. However, that also means we share control over the department’s budget, policies, etc.
  • Contract with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office – this would provide some cost savings, with the least amount of local control and less direct service. This option would mean we’d have no governance control over the organization and would not oversee any part of the organization's day-to-day operations, budget, or those in charge of policing in our community.

As our city council and I have spoken with our community over the past year, it’s been clear that ensuring we do not lose service levels while keeping costs under control has been most important. Participating in a reorganized Unified Police Department is the best way to ensure service levels are maintained at limited cost impacts.

The Reorganization Process

Lost Economies of Scale – From the beginning of this process, our city recognized that this legislation would either require us to see increased costs or decreased service levels – this is primarily due to losing economies of scale. While the State’s legislation did not require Salt Lake County to remove themselves from UPD, the county made it clear that this would be their goal. With the county leaving, we would lose their 20% contribution to all shared services costs while only losing about 11,500 people from the UPD service area. Because we were losing so few people, and therefore cases and calls, from UPD’s service area, we could not necessarily cut shared services by 20%. For example, the shared services from UPD’s special victims unit and violent crimes unit will have a similar number of cases and, therefore, need the same support staff from human resources, forensics, training, etc.

Cost Goals – When looking at service areas of similar sizes to UPD, we found that our total policing costs were about 7% below the average cost of policing in those other communities. Knowing that, the UPD board directed our police chief to reorganize the department while staying under a 7% cost increase. We felt this would be a reasonable starting point, feeling we could create an effective and efficient department by using this budgetary goal.

Service Level Expectations – UPD operates two types of organizational services: precinct services and shared services.

Precinct Services: Each UPD community has a precinct that covers our patrol officers, street crimes, property crimes, traffic enforcement, etc. These services are fully funded by the individual community, and Midvale’s precinct will largely stay the same. Our goal was to ensure our community would not feel a drop in service levels. Salt Lake County also has a precinct in UPD, which covers canyon patrol, the gang unit, DEA task force, etc. These services will return to the county and be served by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. While UPD will not cover these services, our community can still access them through the Sheriff’s office.

Shared Services: Each UPD community pays a portion of shared services based on a formula that weighs the city’s 3-year average number of cases (70%), the city’s population (20%), and the city’s taxable value (10%). This formula is recalculated annually and covers each community’s portion of human resources, records retention, training, violent crimes unit, special victims’ unit, etc. These services will largely remain the same, and our community should not feel any difference in service levels.

Impact on our Community – Going into the reorganizing process with a goal of maintaining service levels while knowing we were losing 20% of the funding, we knew costs would go up. Fortunately, we could reorganize our department to find cost savings while accounting for lost economies of scale and inflationary cost increases to stay within the goal of a 7% increase. However, a 7% overall increase impacts each community differently because of the shared services formula and precinct variables. Our total cost increase to incorporate these changes is about $1.8 million. While going through this process, our city found no way to maintain current service levels without seeing increased costs, and this still provides more significant cost savings than we’d see with a Midvale department while maintaining current service levels. We know the City Council will have to consider increasing property taxes this year to cover the new costs, but we are still finalizing the city’s budget and do not have that number yet. Supporting public safety will be our number one priority this year.

What’s Still to Come – Now that Midvale City and our UPD partners (Millcreek, Holladay, Kearns, Magna, White City, Emigration Canyon, Copperton, and Brighton) have all voted to stay with the reorganized UPD, we still have a lot of work to do before the County’s separation date of July 1 of this year. We still have small things like moving the shared services staff from the Sheriff’s Office Building into the city precincts and big things like finalizing contracts to continue to share some services with the county, such as evidence storage.

On a personal note, this issue has been the most complicated and overwhelming issue I’ve encountered to date (and some elected officials who have been around a lot longer than I have, say the same thing). Having the trust of my fellow UPD board members to chair the organization during this transition has been an incredibly stressful honor. While the initial cost increase will be hard, I’m confident that this reorganized UPD will provide financial and public safety stability for our community and our officers.