SALT LAKE CITY — The disagreement over how Salt Lake County is managing the inmate population at jail is making headlines again.
On Tuesday, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder went before the Salt Lake County Council and said a lack of funding keeps him from opening nearly 400 unused jail beds.
“Our operational capacities, as indicated, have not changed,” Winder said.
Winder oversees jail operations and some officers say his year-old booking restrictions policy has taken away an important tool to keep the streets safe. Under the policy, thousands of people who commit misdemeanors are only issued a citation and then get released on the spot.
The KSL Investigative team was the first to discover that police have been unable to book 40 percent of offenders because of new restrictions at the county jail.
"We expend to our budget. I do not have the authorization, sir, to open new beds unless I ask for you, and receive from you, revenues to open new beds,” Winder said.
On March 1, 2016, Winder issued an order essentially barring police departments across the valley from using the jail to book most suspects who’ve been caught committing misdemeanor offenses. At the time, Winder said it was a way to manage the inmate population.
In a KSL TV report by Debbie Dujanovic on Feb. 23, police officers in several different jurisdictions told KSL the jail plan is wreaking havoc in neighborhoods.
“It’s been ridiculous”, said Salt Lake City police Sgt. Scott Mourtgos in the report. “We need to be able to book people into jail for the crimes they commit.” Dujanovic also interviewed Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, who said the policy is "impacting the way we want to serve our community."
“You can’t lock the front door of the jail, you just can’t,” Brown said.
A day after the KSL report aired, Winder held a news conference and defended the booking restriction policy of the county jail in a passionate, sometimes tense meeting with reporters. Winder said he wanted to set the record straight about into the policy of the Salt Lake County Jail to refrain from booking inmates on suspicion of misdemeanor offenses, with the exception of DUI, domestic violence, child abuse, violation of a protective order or any offense for which a conviction would land the person on the state sex/kidnapping offender registry.
At the Feb. 24 news conference, Winder said the policy allows officers wide discretion to request overrides in cases with unique circumstances. A very low percentage of override requests from officers are rejected, he said.
Officers have said they want to start a conversation to allow more misdemeanor criminals to be booked — even temporarily.
After Tuesday’s council meeting, KSL wanted to ask Winder what his plan is to address concerns. Winder granted interviews to other local news stations, but when asked for an interview with KSL, he declined.
“Sheriff, you want to take a minute and talk to me about jail beds?,” asked Dujanovic.
“No,” Winder told Dujanovic.
Salt Lake police have already linked restrictions at the jail to an increase in certain crimes in their city, like theft, assaults and forgeries. Some officers have said they're worried the problem will only get worse.
Contributing: Ben Lockhart