Utah's first state security chief will focus on standardizing school safety

Matt Pennington has been named as Utah's first state security chief by the Utah Department of Public Safety. Pennington says his first task will be to create standardized school safety protocols statewide.

Matt Pennington has been named as Utah's first state security chief by the Utah Department of Public Safety. Pennington says his first task will be to create standardized school safety protocols statewide. (Utah Department of Public Safety)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has named its first state security chief.

On Thursday, the Utah Department of Public Safety announced that Matt Pennington will fill the newly created position.

"I'm very ecstatic to go on board with DPS," he told KSL.com. "It's an amazing opportunity."

The state security chief position was created from HB61 which was passed during last year's legislative session. Pennington says his first task will be to create standard protocols and procedures for school safety statewide.

Just like most people grew up with fire drills that were the same no matter which school they went to, Pennington says his office will develop a statewide standard for safety. For example, school districts over the past few years have come up with their own "lockdown" or "lockout" protocols, he said. But the terminology may be different in some districts.

The goal, Pennington says, is that if a student ends up switching districts, the student will already know the safety protocols of his or her new school because they will be the same statewide. "We will set people up to be safe," he said.

According to the job description posted by the state for the position of director of state security, "This director-level position will coordinate and communicate with the Utah State Board of Education, county sheriffs, municipal law enforcement, school resource officers, individual schools and school districts, and other partners to establish and enforce safety standards in schools. Safety standards will include but are not limited to school construction and design, training and drills, communication, early warning, infrastructure assessments, threat management/assessments, and equipment."

Pennington says his job could later evolve into establishing a safety standard for all public buildings in Utah.

Pennington comes from the South Jordan Police Department where he had worked since 2007, rose to the rank of lieutenant and was a member of the South Valley SWAT team from 2008-2018, and again from 2020-23. Prior to South Jordan police, Pennington started his law enforcement career with the Weber County Sheriff's Office in 2004.

For the past eight years, Pennington has also been working with the Jordan School District and helping with civilian training. He says he became passionate about the work, which is why he jumped at the chance when the new state position was created. He says instead of retiring from police work after 20 years, he now "gets to go out and make a difference in the world."

"We warmly welcome Matt as our new state security chief. His distinguished career in law enforcement, highlighted by commendations for exceptional service and leadership, makes him an outstanding choice for this critical role. Director Pennington's wealth of experience in public safety and his dedication to protecting our communities align perfectly with the Department of Public Safety's mission," Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said in a statement.

"This marks the beginning of a transformative era for the safety and future of our state, and we are confident in the positive impact Director Pennington will make under his capable leadership."

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Utah K-12 educationUtah LegislatureUtahSalt Lake CountyPolice & CourtsEducation
Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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