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The City Journals

Riverton leaves UPD in favor of creating Riverton Police Department

Dec 11, 2018 09:24AM ● By Mariden Williams

Once hired, the new police chief will oversee the hiring of officers, acquisition of equipment, budget creation, and more. (Riverton City Communications)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

As of Oct. 23, Riverton City is officially leaving the Unified Police Department in favor of creating its own in-house Riverton Police Department. This move has been in the works since back in July, when the Riverton City Council declared its intent to leave the Unified Police Department if significant differences between the city and UPD board officials could not be resolved.  

“The decision to form our own police department has been a difficult one for us,” said Councilman Sheldon Stewart. “Ultimately, the decision was made based on what direction could provide the best level of service in our city at the best cost. The move to create our own police department allows more Riverton taxpayer dollars to be invested in law enforcement service right here in our own community.” 

“We are excited to begin the process of forming the Riverton Police Department,” said Mayor Trent Staggs. “The first step for us will be to hire a chief of police that can guide us as we begin the formation of the department. The city council has directed city staff to take steps to begin that search and hiring process.”

Officials won't need to create the police department entirely from scratch. Riverton has been a member of UPD since 2010, so all of the UPD assets purchased with Riverton tax dollars in that time, belong to Riverton. Because of this, Riverton leaders should be able to take its toys — the police precinct building next to city hall, squad cars, etc. — and go home to create their own police department, for relatively little money.  

According to the city’s financial analysis, the new department could hire up to 38 officers and five civilian employees without paying more than what is currently paid to UPD for law enforcement service for 28–30 officers in the city.

That's what the numbers say, but many participants at a town hall meeting back in August expressed doubts this is how things would actually play out — one resident described the proposed Riverton Police Department's budget as "a pipe dream."

"I've seen Draper do this. I've seen it three times, and every time, it was over budget,” said Ray Lopez, a retired UPD officer. “I saw Taylorsville do it, and it's over budget. I saw Cottonwood Heights do it, and it's over budget. And you show us your numbers, it's going to go over budget." 

Many cities that leave UPD end up coming back in the end for precisely that reason. 

"I was part of the Taylorsville police department, and we had a lot of struggles, although we had a lot of great people trying to make it work,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.

 “The budget was just too much, and we came back to UPD."  

City leaders hope to have a chief of police in place by Jan. 1, with the first review of applications taking place on Nov. 16. The new chief will oversee the formation of the new department, including the hiring of officers, the acquisition of equipment, the creation of a budget and the development of policy.

“We’re excited to be able to open the chief of police position and begin accepting applicants,” said Riverton City Manager Konrad Hildebrandt. “We’re looking to hire someone who will create and develop the Riverton Police Department into the best department in Utah, bar none.”

The mayor will appoint the new chief, with the advice and consent of the city council. Reporting directly to the city manager, the chief will serve as part of Riverton City’s executive management team and will be expected to earn the respect of the community, be customer-focused, facilitate a positive work environment and develop both short-term and long-term public safety goals for the city.  

“Public safety is our number one goal,” said Staggs. “We’re looking for the best and the brightest in our new department to help us with that goal, and that starts with hiring a chief of police who understands that and who can instill it as part of the culture of the new department.”

It is anticipated that following the hiring of a chief of police, other officer and civilian hires will take place between January and June 2019 to ensure the department is fully staffed to take over operations from UPD at some point in July 2019.

“We appreciate the service of the UPD officers who have served our community so well for many years,” said Councilwoman Tawnee McCay. “We hope to see many of those who serve here currently, whether as officers or as crossing guards, apply for positions in the new Riverton Police Department when that time comes.”