Jim Winder has been confirmed as Moab’s new chief of police after a final interview with Moab City Council members on Tuesday, June 13. Winder will officially resign his current job as Salt Lake County sheriff and CEO of the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake and is expected to take over as Moab police chief on July 1.
During the June 13 interview, Winder addressed the questions regarding conflicts that arose during his time as Salt Lake County sheriff. He said he will focus on engaging with the Moab community and addressing concerns about “what has transpired over the course of the last several months.” Winder also highlighted the importance of adequate staffing.
“Some citizens here are concerned about that and your reported relationships that you have with other sheriffs,” said Moab City Council member Kalen Jones. “It sounds to me like a lot of it was driven by underfunding of the jail system.”
In recent years, Winder’s time as Salt Lake County sheriff was marked by conflict with Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, as well as clashes with other law enforcement agencies over his decision to stop jailing most non-violent misdemeanor offenders as a way to deal with overcrowding at the Salt Lake County Jail. Winder told Moab city council members that tensions arose over his decision to end “overcrowding release,” a policy in which people arrested and taken to jail are processed then immediately allowed to leave.
“That process to me was not only very dangerous and frustrating ... but the general public, they thought everything was working OK,” Winder said, adding that ending the overcrowding release policy was the only way to get county officials and politicians to address the jail’s overcrowding problem.
He said that as chronic homelessness in Salt Lake City received more press attention, the Salt Lake City chief of police came under pressure.
“He and others, in my opinion, began to suggest that the reason there were such chronic problems in the downtown area was because of my policy,” Winder said.
“We did get into a tit-for-tat about that. I understand his need to suggest that it was my actions that had promoted that problem and I hope people understand my response to that, which was to push back and say, it certainly was not.”
Winder said the relationship with Brown deteriorated, but it was a mischaracterization to say that his relationship with other city and county officials suffered.
During Tuesday’s interview, Winder told the council that the number of officers in the Moab Police Department is “way too low” given that the department serves not just city residents but hundreds of thousands of annual visitors as well. He said many people are interested in living in Moab and that with more outreach, Moab could solve the challenges it has faced with police recruitment.
He also emphasized that he would work to mentor young officers and to make sure officers get what they need, whether that means sufficient benefits and pay or recognition for good work.
In response to a question from council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd about “community policing,” Winder said he supports the concept but believes that every officer should be connected to the community, not just one person who is assigned to be a “community police officer.”
“When there is enough staffing and officers have the time, it is imperative that they use that time not in this disconnected way but in a connected way,” Winder said. “... So to me, every officer in every department with the exception of some very specialized units, they are community-oriented police officers. This idea that you assign a guy or a gal to be connected, that’s certainly not how I try to police.”
Winder said he will work with Grand County Sheriff Steve White to support the school resource program, and voiced surprise that the program has been “nonexistent or greatly reduced” in recent years. Sheriff’s department officials have said the program, which involves placing a deputy in the local schools as a resource officer, was temporarily reduced due to a shortage of deputies at the sheriff’s office.
“In the communities that I’m familiar with, school resource officers are of paramount concern. ... I think it’s a super important thing to get back engaged in. It’s a great opportunity for engagement,” Winder said.
Winder supported the police department’s adoption of a standard policing policy from Lexipol, a company that provides policy manuals and training for public safety agencies. However, he said, the city should take an in-depth look at the policy and customize it to the city’s needs.
Council member Rani Derasary asked how Winder would make a diverse community of varying race, political views, religion, gender and other identities feel safe and welcome in their dealings with police.
“All [the people] that you just listed are constituents and human beings that I’m fortunate enough to deal with for many, many years,” Winder said. “Through all of that list that you just made, the one common component is relationship and trust.”
Winder said any actions involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy would occur at the jail, not on the street.
“I’m not a fan of street-level participation by municipal law enforcement in immigration and I think that the law is also very clear on that,” he said. “That is simply not to be done.”
Winder said he would enact any policy the city might adopt with respect to being a sanctuary city, but added, “I don’t think it necessarily changes the day-to-day function of local law enforcement. It’s mainly a philosophical statement.”
Moab resident Charlotte Mates spoke in support of Winder’s appointment, saying she had worked with him to address homelessness issues in Salt Lake City.
“Through his good, open heart, many decisions have been made and much progress has been made in alleviating the pain that goes along with the homeless population and what it causes in the community,” Mates said.
Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said he is excited to have Winder as the new chief of police.
“It’s going to be a great thing for Moab,” Sakrison said. “We’ve got all those young guys with two years or less experience. We need somebody that’s mature, that’s got the experience, that can mentor these guys and bring them along and I think he’s our man to do it.”
The city council unanimously approved Winder’s appointment and authorized Moab City Manager David Everitt to negotiate an employment contract. The council also gave Everitt leeway to offer Winder a base salary of up to $150,000. The city’s current salary range for Moab police chief maxes out at $132,273.