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MIDVALE — Cities and townships in Salt Lake County now plan to take less time than allowed to figure out the future of their policing.
A law passed by the Utah Legislature and signed by the governor removes the Salt Lake County sheriff as CEO of the Unified Police Department and dissolves the agency in 2025. The UPD board wants to finish that work a year earlier.
Under the new law, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office has until July 2025 to separate from UPD. That means three cities and a handful of townships must come up with new policing plans or work together on a new unified department, which is the way they are leaning right now.
"The consensus is that we all recognize that this is an urgent matter," said Midvale Mayor Marcus Stevenson, who is also chairman of the UPD board.
As the bill made its way through the Legislature this past session, several mayors of townships and cities that contract with Unified police spoke against the bill early in the session. Some changed their tune after an amendment added protections for current Unified officers who transfer to the county sheriff's office before July 1, 2025.
Even though the legislation gives them more than two years to reorganize, Stevenson said their communities and their officers are living in limbo waiting for answers.
"We recognize that this is something that we need to do as quickly and as responsibly as possible so we can get everybody involved some answers of what this organization is going to look like going forward," Stevenson said.
UPD currently serves Midvale, Millcreek, Holladay, Kearns, Magna, Copperton, White City, Brighton and Emigration Canyon.
"Unfortunately, we've already seen officers who have left to other departments. We've had officers who we were interviewing, who have said, 'I don't know that I want to work for this organization because they're just uncertain about the future," Stevenson said.
The board, by consensus, hopes to finish reorganizing by July 2024, a year earlier than required. In addition, the members want all entities covered by UPD to share their intentions by July 1 this year.
"That will set the table, and we will have a year to figure out, what does this new organization actually look like? And have that implemented, again being the goal by July 1, 2024," the board chairman said.
Sheriff Rosie Rivera told the board Thursday she can withdraw from the UPD in July 2024, earlier than planned, to coordinate with the board.
While UPD can dissolve, the board is interested in reorganizing after the sheriff is removed.
"We think that we can actually reorganize within the structure and don't necessarily have to fully dissolve," Stevenson said.
The board wants to lay out the options, so each city can make a decision. Moving the timeline forward also enables them to manage unforeseen challenges.
"Public safety is our No. 1 priority throughout this process," Stevenson said. "So the earlier we figure this out, the better guarantee we have of no negative impacts to public safety."
He said that each community involved will need to ask themselves whether a new UPD is right for them. In a phone interview, Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said he likes this plan and hopes that the communities can work together to come up with what he called UPD 2.0.