MIDVALE — The city of Midvale will remain under Unified Police Department’s jurisdiction after a special City Council meeting Tuesday night plagued with indecision failed to produce a concrete vote.
The indecision stems from a feasibility study that most of the council agreed required more time to show exactly what impact a withdrawal would have on both Midvale and Unified.
City officials have considered leaving Unified and forming the city’s own department since July 2019 after several tense budget negotiations between Midvale and Unified. Since Midvale joined the department in 2011, costs have steadily increased, including an annual 1.3% annual increase in precinct costs that Matt Dahl, Midvale assistant city manager, called “very manageable” and an 11.4% increase in shared services that he called “less manageable.”
And just weeks ago the city of Taylorsville, which represents 15% of Unified’s budget, announced it would withdraw to form its own department. Citing increased fees and a wish to have more local control, the Taylorsville City Council is expected to ratify the move on July 1.
“This decision has significant budget implications for the remaining UPD Member Communities,” documents from Midvale’s website read.
The impact of Taylorsville’s withdrawal was the subject of much debate during the Midvale meeting, with several council members worried the city’s departure would impact the quality of Unified’s policing while increasing costs.
“I don’t want the ship to be sinking and us jumping off on something that’s doomed to fail as well,” said Councilman Dustin Gettel.
I don’t want the ship to be sinking and us jumping off on something that’s doomed to fail as well.
–Dustin Gettel, councilman
“We have provided a police department before and we can provide a police department,” Dahl responded. “Where the issue would end up coming is not that our police department would fail as much as … would the level of service meet the needs of the community or be similar to what UPD provided?”
The vote comes during a period of national scrutiny toward police and growing calls to defund, restructure and reform departments across the country. And despite Midvale’s considerations to leave Unified dating back to last summer, the wave of civil unrest was the focal point of many of the public comments.
“To be quite frank, employee morale has reached an all-time low,” wrote Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Association President Johnny Ngo. “The expectation of law enforcement officers has never been higher. Whilst our numbers are depleting, the cost of replenishing will be much more significant in the future ... the quality of depth and service you currently receive cannot be replicated with the same cost while going alone.”
Three Utah mayors — Paulina Flint of White City Metro Township, Jeff Silvestrini of Millcreek and Robert Dahle of Holladay — all voiced opposition to Midvale leaving Unified, warning of a decrease in quality of policing not just in Midvale, but across the entire Unified district.
“I would encourage you to consider the reasons Midvale joined UPD years ago as a better option for policing than self-providing,” Silvestrini wrote.
Before the vote, Dahl presented some preliminary findings from the feasibility study. According to Dahl, a police force consisting of 52 to 56 officers, spread out over four shifts with five officers and one sergeant, would cost Midvale between $8.7 and $9.8 million annually. Startup costs over the next year would run the city from $5.1 to $7.4 million.
Dahl laid out several complications that would come with withdrawing from Unified, including hiring new officers, renovating the Midvale precinct, acquiring property to build an evidence storage facility, outfitting roughly 60 service vehicles, and purchasing firearms, uniforms and technology.
The city would also have to reacquire evidence from Unified, as well as equipment provided to the department when Midvale originally joined in 2011.
“The transition from UPD will be a difficult part of the process,” Dahl said. “If we provided (Unified) a 2011 Chevy Impala, do we get back a 2011 Chevy Impala? Or do we get back a 2020?”
Ultimately the study did not paint a clear enough picture for the council as to what a departure would look like. After a vote to table the decision failed, a second vote to withdraw from Unified also failed, essentially validating the original motion. The council will vote again when more information is available.