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Citing unsuccessful negotiations with Unified police, Riverton takes next steps to form own police force

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Posted - Oct 24th, 2018 @ 2:48pm



RIVERTON — Despite three months of negotiations with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, Riverton city leaders are moving forward with their decision to officially separate from the Unified Police Department.

The Riverton City Council decided at its meeting Tuesday to begin the process of forming the Riverton Police Department.

"We are excited to begin the process," Mayor Trent Staggs said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday, noting the first step will be to hire a chief of police.

The formation of the new police force comes after Riverton leaders submitted in July a notice of the city's intent to withdraw from the Unified Police Department.

Since then, the city has been negotiating with Unified leaders to resolve concerns about financial management, transparency and the organization's governance. However negotiations haven't been fruitful, and "most of the concerns weren't addressed to the satisfaction of a majority of Riverton's council members," city officials said in a news release.

"The decision to form our own police department has been a difficult one for us," Councilman Sheldon Steward said. "Ultimately, the decision was made based on what direction could provide the best level of service in our city at the best cost.

"The move to create our own police department allows more Riverton taxpayer dollars to be invested in law enforcement service right here in our community," he said.

Leaders from other cities, including Herriman and Cottonwood Heights, have questioned whether the cost of contracting with Unified is worth the shared coverage of service provided by the police department. For Riverton, concerns centered around budgeting transparency.

Herriman recently celebrated the launch of its police department, after divorcing from Unified earlier this year.

Former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, now the Moab police chief, earlier this year railed against cities abandoning the Unified Police Department and indicated Sheriff Rosie Rivera was not doing much to stop them. But Rivera has previously pointed to actions she has taken to address Riverton's concerns and has said she believed there was a chance Riverton will change its mind about leaving.

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Reached Wednesday, Rivera said she wasn't surprised by Riverton's actions to move forward with the separation.

"We did a lot of work trying to address all their issues," Rivera said. "However, they still chose to leave, and we wish them well."

Rivera said it was obvious that the mayor had made up his mind about leaving, but she had hoped her team would be able to sway the council. Unfortunately, she said their efforts only swayed some council members and not enough to change the outcome of the vote.

"I would prefer that Riverton stay with Unified," Rivera said, noting that she also has a "unique perspective" because she lives within the city. "I think we are the best department for Riverton ... but, you know, that's their choice and we can't force them to stay. We've done everything we could to try to keep them."

Riverton city officials said they hope to have a new chief of police in place by Jan. 1. The chief will then "guide the formation" of the new police department and provide recommendations to the City Council for staff, city officials said.

After the new police chief is in place, Riverton expects to seek to hire the rest of its police force between January and June, in preparation of launching the new department in July.

Riverton could have up to 38 officers and five civilian employees without paying more than what is currently paid to Unified for 28 to 30 officers in the city, according to a city financial analysis.

“We appreciate the service of the (Unified) officers who have served our community so well for many years,” Riverton Councilwoman Tawnee McCay said. “We hope to see many of those who serve here currently, whether as officers or as crossing guards, apply for positions in the new Riverton Police Department when that time comes.”

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