The Moab City Council held a public interview with one of the top candidates for the city’s police chief job during a special meeting on Monday, April 17. The candidate, Ken Carpenter, is the current police chief of Parowan Police Department, a former Cedar City officer and a retired Marine Corps major.
He said that as Moab’s police chief, he would focus on the best interests of the community while safeguarding the lives of officers, with an emphasis on training.
Carpenter emphasized the importance of building good relationships with the community and other law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff’s departments in Grand and San Juan counties, the Utah Department of Public Safety, the Utah Attorney General’s office, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison asked Carpenter about his stance on contacting ICE when undocumented immigrants are involved in minor infractions or routine police interactions such as traffic stops.
“If we have a traffic stop and the person is undocumented or illegal, what are you going to do?” Sakrison asked.
Carpenter said immigration control is a federal issue, not the focus for a local police department, and ICE could help the police department deal with violent felons or criminals who are undocumented.
“We’re not worried about arresting them because they’re not documented. That’s not our job,” Carpenter said. “There’s a lot of good, hardworking people here who may be here illegally, who may have been raised here ... If they’ve done something that’s criminally wrong, we take the appropriate action.”
Carpenter said he would look into upgrading and organizing the police department’s overcrowded evidence storage facility. He also would like to reinstate the drug task force. The focus, he said, would not be “going after” drug users, although he would expect some drug-related arrests.
“We’re really looking at those preying on the community,” Carpenter said, adding that such police efforts would primariily focus on people involved in manufacturing and transporting drugs, especially heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, three drugs responsible for the deaths of 53,000 American last year.
According to documents provided by the Moab City Police Department to The Times-Independent, the drug task force has been a combined effort of local law enforcement agencies since 1987 for investigating and prosecuting state and federal narcotics violations. Although not formally disbanded, its latest iteration, the Moab Area Narcotics Enforcement Team, has not been active since 2013.
In a Sept. 22, 2016 letter to Interim Police Chief Steve Ross, Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald attributed the task force’s inactivity to “trust” issues. Fitzgerald alleged that other involved law enforcement agencies did not want to participate if Moab Police Officer Shaun Hansen was involved.
“[T]his sentiment from other agencies outside Grand County continues and handicaps Grand Counties’ [sic] ability to perform its essential law enforcement duties,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The reasoning behind task force members’ exclusion is not certain; however, it appears that it is an issue of trust.”
Hansen, who had been on paid administrative leave since September, resigned from the police force April 16, during an internal affairs investigation into his alleged violations of department policy.
Moab City Manager David Everitt said Hansen’s resignation “effectively ends the city’s internal investigation into policy violations, without formal findings.”
Carpenter said community trust and support is essential for an effective police department and a school resource officer would help build positive relationships with children and parents.
“It’s being there at [student’s] games; it’s being there at their concerts, their plays, being there as a resource, [being] someone that can talk to and associate with,” Carpenter said. “It is about keeping our schools safe but it’s also very much about community policing and developing relationships.”
To help with retention and morale, Carpenter said he would like to establish a mentorship program.
“The agency here is really very young ... Morale is on the way up,” Carpenter said. “Part of being able to keep that morale going up is knowing that we care about them and their career, and that we’re doing the things that we can to help them become the professionals that they want to be.”
The training budget for the Moab police increased from about $7,000 to $20,000 in 2017, which is important for an effective police force, Carpenter said.
Carpenter said he has worked through difficult situations during his tenure as Parowan police chief. When an officer-involved shooting occurred under his watch, he met with the family to answer questions, communicated with the media and sent the officer involved to a counselor to be evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder and for follow-up appointments.
“Even though it was a tragic situation, we did everything we could to mitigate it and move forward, and we’re stronger for it,” Carpenter said.
To increase retention, Carpenter said, the city needs to make sure officers are paid decently, so that they can afford a home and family in Moab, and recommended emphasizing the unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities that Moab has to offer, which are a draw for Carpenter himself. He grew up east of Grand Junction, Colorado, and said he has fond memories of visiting Moab when he was young and his father took the family on trips to the region.
“I’ve always loved the Moab area,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said he has done everything he said he would to help Parowan build a better police department. In Moab, he hopes to find new challenges, opportunities for personal growth and a chance to help build and provide mentorship for a young police department.
City council member Rani Derasary asked Carpenter how he plans to build trust with Moab’s diverse community.
“We don’t care about race, religion, sexual preference or anything else. Everybody deserves to be treated with respect and we’re there to enforce the rule of law,” Carpenter said. “That’s part of the message that we always need to be able to get out.”
In 2015, Carpenter was recognized as Small Agency Police Chief of the Year for his work in Parowan, where he oversees five full time and four part time officers.
Moab City Manager David Everitt said Wednesday that the city council will interview with a second candidate, Keith McPheeters, during a public meeting on Tuesday, April 25 at 5 p.m. at the city council chambers. McPheeters served as deputy police chief for the Farmington Police Department in New Mexico until his retirement in 2016. He served on that police force for more than 24 years, according to his online resume at linkedin.com.
Times-Independent reporter Molly Marcello contributed to this story.