By Rose Egelhoff • The Times-Independent
By mid-August the Moab Police Department will be at full staff for the first time in years, according to Police Chief Jim Winder, but the Grand County Sheriff’s Office is still short on people.
“It’s been many years since the agency has been fully staffed,” Winder said. “When I first arrived here we had officers working 16-hour shifts, oftentimes back-to-back. That really is problematic. Obviously it can burn an officer out. It can create fatigue issues that are concerning. It doesn’t allow officers to use their vacation or sick [time] … I think with these new additions we will be moving more and more to a proactive department rather than reactive and we should have a happier, more balanced staff because they can have some time to themselves.”
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office is down four patrol officers and one corrections officer, Sheriff Steve White told The Times-Independent. The sheriff’s office has 23 correction and road deputies, not including the sheriff, according to sheriff’s office staff. By comparison, Moab City has 18 officers on staff, Winder said.
Some of those city police officers started out in the sheriff’s office. According to Grand County Clerk/Auditor Diana Carroll, the county has put roughly $700,000 over the past decade into training deputies who then switched to the city police. To address the issue, White said, the county is working on salary and recruitment packages that will be more attractive to applicants. The county will “use the city’s salary ranges as a benchmark for our target range,” said Chris Baird, who is working on those salary packages for the county.
Until those salaries change, the sheriff’s office will presumably keep dealing with a shortage of personnel. Being understaffed “means you’ve got officers that are working a huge amount of overtime so there’s potential for burnout,” said White. “We’re call-responsive. We can’t be everywhere we want to be. Basically we become reactive because we cover the calls that come in, so maybe you don’t work as much speed enforcement as what you’d like to or other issues. You cover what you have to cover first.”
While Moab is the most obvious competitor, White said he has lost officers to agencies across the state. “The whole state of Utah is down officers. It’s kind of a perfect storm. It’s due to retirement. It’s due to salaries. It’s due to lack of recruits.”
While Winder is happy to have the police at full staff, he plans to ask for more funding. “Given the size and the volume of the calls that we’re having, I know people still think we’re a very small town but to have proper staffing I still will be seeking additional allocations from the city council for at least the next year or possibly two,” Winder said.
After 11 months in Moab, Winder calls Salt Lake press conference to call out his successor
Moab’s new police chief was back in his old stomping grounds this week, critiquing his replacement in the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and lamenting the exit of members from the Unified Police Department.
In Wasatch Front news reports, Winder, who was a founder of the UPD, which brought various Salt Lake suburbs under one law enforcement umbrella, lamented the performance of Sheriff Rosie Rivera. “A strong sheriff needs to fight” to keep the consolidated law enforcement agency together, said Winder at a news conference he organized. He said public safety and higher costs could be a result. He said the agency could fall apart into 20 police departments.
Winder held the event a day after a state audit gave UPD passing grades, along with some suggestions on governance structure and transparency. Rivera, his successor, countered that Winder had lost touch with the department since he left nearly a year ago. “UPD is not unraveling,” she told the media.
An election for Salt Lake County Sheriff will happen Nov. 6, but Winder hasn’t endorsed Rivera, who told the Salt Lake Tribune that she was in a meeting with CFOs of several member cities and UPD command staffers when she was alerted to listen to Winder’s news conference outside her office. “Asked why Winder unleashed his criticisms publicly, Rivera said she didn’t know and hasn’t spoken to him since he left town for Moab,” the Tribune reported.
Riverton is one Salt Lake suburb that is a member of UPD. Trent Staggs, Riverton mayor, rejected Winder’s criticism and said exploration of forming its own police force or renegotiating its UPD contract is the city acting responsibly on behalf of taxpayers. As for Winder, said Skaggs, “He himself left his post as one who oversaw UPD to go to a small city that self-provides law enforcement,” the mayor said.