A half year in, the newly created Taylorsville Police Department is keeping its promise of transparency by establishing a Community Advisory BoardJan 13, 2022 12:29PM ● By Carl Fauver
Mayor Kristie Overson was among the speakers last summer at the swearing in ceremony for members of the newly formed Taylorsville City Police Department. (TVPD Facebook page)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
A year ago at this time, Taylorsville residents were still being protected by the city’s Unified Police Department precinct, although one of its top employees had just left the agency. With nearly a quarter-century of law enforcement experience under his belt, Brady Cottam departed UPD to accept the city’s new police chief post.
Cottam and Deputy Police Chief Todd Gray, who came over from West Valley City PD, were approved for their positions by the Taylorsville City Council during their first 2021 council meeting. They were the first two hires in a department that is now 70 strong.
“Chief Cottam has both an impeccable work ethic and moral compass,” Mayor Kristie Overson said at the time. “He understands the value of fostering relationships throughout the law enforcement community and is a natural and effective leader who cares about the people he serves. I am impressed with his forward thinking and strategic planning for the future. He is the right man to lead our police force.”
“I am very humbled and never thought I would stand in this position,” Cottam told city council members. “I am very excited. This will be a great city for our officers to work in. I am grateful to my wife and family. I am also grateful to have Todd along my side.”
At that time, the new department was still six months away from officially replacing UPD. After contracting for police services with UPD for nearly a decade, the Taylorsville City Council finally made the decision to severe ties with the Salt Lake County agency in the summer of 2020, just a couple of months into our now nearly two-year-long pandemic.
Council members said at the time the issue was taxation without representation.
“The four cities served by UPD (Holladay, Midvale, Millcreek and Taylorsville) represent 68% of the department’s budget and about the same percentage of total residents served by the agency; but those cities only have 33% of the votes on the UPD board of directors,” Taylorsville City Attorney Tracy Cowdell said to the council at the time. “This is not fair. Our citizens have a disproportional representation on the [UPD] board.”
The Taylorsville City Council then sent a letter to UPD, notifying them of the city’s intent to discontinue contracting for its services, as of June 30, 2021. However, city leaders also left the door open at that time to perhaps salvage the relationship, if county officials were willing to change some of their practices. They were not, and the race was on to form the new department from the ground up, in a single year.
One of the first moves city leaders made at that time was to hire recently retired Unified Fire Authority veteran Jay Ziolkowski to serve as the project management team leader to oversee police transition details. His duties in that role are now just about completed, although he is still tending to a few final details. He has also since accepted a community liaison position with Taylorsville City.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience,” Ziolkowski said. “Although I was never a police officer, I did work very closely with them throughout my career. I can say with all confidence, Taylorsville taxpayers are better served with this change. City officials are now scrutinizing their police services much more closely. And the people they have hired are very dedicated and focused.”
As it did from day one, six months ago, Taylorsville Police Department consists of 70 employees: 50 sworn officers, 10 sergeants, a chief, two deputy chiefs and seven civilian employees. There’s been 10% turnover among the officers (five of the original 50). Cottam said they all left because of the “wage war” that’s now going on among the many different law enforcement agencies throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
“[Different police agencies] claim Taylorsville started the [police officers’] wage war and we are kind of proud of that,” Cottam said. “Four of the five officers who have left, returned to their previous agency—two to Salt Lake, one to West Jordan and one to South Salt Lake. The fifth officer who left us went to Summit County. In all five cases, they left to earn higher wages, which is also a big reason why they came to us. I’m glad our salary structure is forcing other agencies to take another look at theirs.”
Cottam reports the salary scale the Taylorsville Police Department established created in its new department has forced the other agencies to “keep up.” He believes that’s a good thing for all Salt Lake Valley law enforcement agencies and for the residents they serve.
One of the biggest things now underway related to the new department is the creation of the five-member Community Advisory Board. In one of their final 2021 meetings, Taylorsville City Council members voted unanimously to authorize the board’s creation.
Cottam says the five board members will be Taylorsville residents, unaffiliated with law enforcement. He said Overson will select the members, and his department will have no say in those selections. Cottam describes this as another step in his commitment to department transparency.
“Once the five board members are selected, they will undergo training to learn more about the kinds of split-second decisions my officers have to make on the job,” Cottam said. “But the board will be independent from us and able to offer valuable perspectives. I look forward to working with them.”
The Community Advisory Board will review Taylorsville Police incidents involving use of deadly force, vehicular pursuits and internal investigations. Members will examine specific details about these cases and offer disciplinary suggestions if they find evidence an officer acted improperly.
“I hope the board will include men and women, with minority representation,” Cottam said. “I really feel good about this program. I want [our residents] to know we are doing things properly.”
Finally, another aspect of the Taylorsville Police Department that Cottam said is coming together more quickly than expected is the agency’s three-dog K9 Squad. The animals were recently “introduced” to Taylorsville City Council members at one of its meetings. They are not yet fully certified. But they are out working the streets sooner than the chief expected.
“Our dogs have been certified as drug sniffers, but they are not yet certified to search for human suspects,” Cottam said. “The unit’s supervisor is Sergeant Jake Palmer, who we hired away from West Valley City Police. We are ahead of the curve in getting the K9 Unit going. They are doing great.”
Now six months into his position, Cottam admits to still being a little surprised and grateful to be in the post.
“This is nothing I was ever expecting in my career,” he said. “Even hearing people call me ‘Chief Cottam’ still feels unusual sometimes. It’s been an adjustment, because I was never looking for it. But once I applied for the job, I felt pretty good about my grasp on what needed to be done. It’s been a lot of work, but I have never really been nervous about it. We have a great relationship with the city [council members and staff]. Things are going well.”