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The City Journals

Jacobs geometrical road to West Valley City Police Chief

Apr 04, 2018 03:44PM ● By Travis Barton

Colleen Jacobs was named the first female police chief for West Valley City. She has worked with the police department since her field training. (West Valley City)

Geometry and a substitute teacher at Tooele High. Who knew that combination would be Colleen Jacobs’ launching pad into law enforcement?

She was in high school and, in typical teenage fashion, was complaining with her classmates about why they needed to learn geometry. When would the Pythagorean theorem be necessary in real life? That’s when the substitute teacher, a former police officer, changed Jacobs’ life forever.

“He starts throwing traffic accidents up on the board and how geometry plays into traffic accident investigation, and I was hooked,” Jacobs recalled.

That initial hook not only led to a criminal justice degree at Weber State and 21 years working with West Valley City Police, but also to her being named West Valley City’s Police Chief.

“This is such an honor and a privilege for me to be here,” Jacobs said. “I am very excited to lead this organization into the future.”

Jacobs served as interim chief for almost six months before being named chief at the end of February. This came after a three-month process, City Manager Wayne Pyle said, of evaluating candidates both nationally and locally. He said the final three candidates consisted of Jacobs, one from out of town and one from out of state.

While the previously appointed chief, Lee Russo, was an outsider from Kentucky, Jacobs has been with the department her entire career working in patrol, investigations, narcotics, grants, internal affairs and as deputy chief.

Jacobs enjoyed all aspects of her career, from working with 911 callers “to help mitigate this person's probably worst experience of their life” to the rewarding experience of interacting with the public in community meetings.

Every police chief appointment is different depending the current criteria and priorities, Pyle said, this time he wanted someone for the long term.

Pyle, who went on a ride-a-long with Jacobs in 1998, felt like Jacobs was the right recommendation for the city council’s approval.

“I remember being impressed even back then as to how brave an officer and how skilled and confident she was, and so I'm very excited and happy to have her in this position,” he said. 

Pyle, who has worked with multiple police chiefs, received contact from members of the police department voicing their support and desire to have Jacobs as chief. He said that had never happened before. 

“The support the department has shown has been very humbling,” Jacobs said. “I’m really a very private and reserved person and to have this much support has just been truly very humbling. 

Other determining factors, Pyle said, was Jacobs’ flexibility, potential and fit with the city’s overall vision.

“I saw in her the development potential plus the willingness to use the whole executive staff as a team,” Pyle said.

Having been here longer than many staff within the city and her department has already made for a smooth transition.

“It’s nice not coming into this as a stranger because it already feels like home and now it’s just stepping into that leadership role,” Jacobs said. 

A management position that she said is a “whole other level” with its fast pace and broad range of topics that need addressing. 

“It has truly been like drinking from a fire hose,” she said of her months as interim chief.

And she’s already be leaving an impression. Mayor Ron Bigleow said he’s already heard encouraging things from residents. One involved a cleaned-up drug house where the investigation had been dragging. 

“We’ve already seen some positive results which we’re happy about,” he said.

Jacobs has been active since taking over as interim chief. In October, she authorized the purchase of new guns for the department after discovering a defect in the old ones. Five new Harleys were approved for purchase to strengthen the motor brigade.

Prior to taking over as chief, Jacobs was instrumental in the department becoming the only nationally accredited police agency in Utah with CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies).

“The transparency, the accountability, we’re good with that because we’re doing things right and we’re doing them the best we can,” she said.

Jacobs is excited for what’s to come like the upcoming mental health justice court, a diversionary technique meant to provide individuals services rather than simply jail time.

But her top priority is officer retention. “Once we have good officers and have them trained, we want to keep them.”

She has 35 retention ideas. Some have price tags while others are increasing an officer’s value or improving the work environment.

“The more someone feels valued, the more they're willing to want to come to work,” she said.

Jacobs had knee surgery in February to repair a torn ACL, but she is anxious to return to what hooked her in high school geometry and has felt natural ever since: good police work.