HB 374, regarding the disbanding of the Unified Police Department, passed the Utah House and is being held in the State Senate as of Feb. 23.
The UPD currently serves cities and townships within the greater Salt Lake area. Copperton, Holladay, Kearns, Midvale, Magna and Millcreek are among those cities and townships.
“The Unified Police Department was created to consolidate police services between municipalities to achieve operational and financial efficiencies,” according to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
UPD allows cities and townships to pool their funds together to pay for police services instead of paying for their own police department. “This can be compared to how Costco operates, people purchase a membership to get quality goods at a lower price,” the Office of the Sheriff said.
The UPD is currently overseen by the Salt Lake County sheriff. According to Representative Jordan Teuscher, this has been causing some kickback within his district.
Rep. Teuscher represents the southwest part of Salt Lake Valley, including South Jordan, West Jordan and Herriman. “Others there raised concerns to me that they felt like there was some double taxation issues in the Salt Lake County Sheriff Department. They felt like some of the county-wide funds were going to subsidize the Unified Police Department,” Rep. Teuscher said.
Rep. Teuscher said the southwest part of the valley came together to create their own SWAT team using city taxes, but, at the same time, the county sheriff receives county funds for a county SWAT team. Due to what is set up through UPD, the county sheriff does not have any deputies to be able to provide those services, and the county sheriff gives those county-wide funds to UPD, he said.
“So, someone living in the southwest part of the valley is paying county taxes going to a SWAT team they will never use,” Rep. Teuscher said.
Rep. Teuscher said it became apparent to him there are many shared services with county-wide dollars flowing into UPD. “There’s not a lot of accountability or transparency that is providing any benefit to the parts of the county that aren’t using UPD for their policing services,” Rep. Teuscher said.
The biggest problem Rep. Teuscher saw was the Salt Lake County Sheriff, Rosie Rivera, was also the CEO of UPD. “We have a conflict of interest where our county sheriff, who is elected by the entire county to provide law enforcement services … is also the CEO of a smaller police entity that just provides services to a small part of the county,” Rep. Teuscher said.
He said what is best for the county may not be best for UPD, and vice versa.
In a press release from the Salt Lake County Office of the Sheriff, they stated that the conflict of interest misconception has been the hardest to address. Sheriff Rivera said she has asked for evidence of this on multiple occasions but has yet to receive any.
“I am confident there is no conflict of interest and I was deeply disappointed when I was told that the perception of a conflict was enough to run a bill to fundamentally change the UPD,” Sheriff Rivera said.
However, the Salt Lake County Sheriff Department has decided to ultimately support the bill because they believe that is what is best for long-term stability.
“I have been backed into a corner by political forces and there are no easy paths out. I am supporting the bill because I have a responsibility to create long-term stability for public safety for the residents of Salt Lake County and the people who work for UPD,” Sheriff Rivera said.
The Salt Lake County Sheriff Department believes killing this bill will only lead to the inevitable disbanding of the UPD.
Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith said, “This has not been an easy road or decision for Sheriff Rivera. All Utah Sheriffs are standing by to support her and her team as they face an inevitably difficult transition, either through this bill or another coordinated effort. Protecting public safety and the right to vote for your sheriff is paramount.”
If this bill passes, the dissolving of the UPD would take place July 1, 2025, leaving plenty of room for the cities and townships to decide what they want to do in regards to policing.
“I figured the best thing that we could do is just get the state out of the business of telling the county what they can and can’t do in terms of policing force,” Rep. Teuscher said.
This bill gives control back to local cities to decide, Rep. Teuscher added. They can decide if they want to contract with the sheriff, have their own police force or work with other cities to create a combined police force.