SANDY — For the first time, a woman has been elected as the sheriff of Salt Lake County.
Unified Police Chief Rosie Rivera was chosen Saturday to fill Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder’s remaining 16 months in office. She received the most votes from Salt Lake County Democrats during a special meeting at the Miller Campus at Salt Lake Community College.
Her name will be presented to the Salt Lake County Council within five days. If confirmed by the council, Rivera will not only be the county's first female sheriff but also the state's first female Latina sheriff.
"We did make history today, and that’s another thing that’s important. You know, being a female in law enforcement hasn’t always been the easiest thing. But I worked my way through the ranks. I did my time, boots on the ground, and I think I’m now ready to lead Salt Lake County as sheriff,” Rivera said.
Rivera became the Unified Police Department's first ever female chief when she became head of the department's Riverton precinct, plus she was the first female officer in the Metro Gang Unit. She thanked Winder for appointing her as chief and giving her the opportunity to move forward in her career. Rivera also believes that her 24 years of experience with the department, serving in a number of positions ranging from department spokeswoman to head of the violent crimes and sexual assault units, gave her an edge over the other four candidates.
"I think that helped me understand that the communities are pretty passionate in wanting solutions, the same as I do, to make sure people are safe and they are protected,” she said.
It took two rounds of voting for Democrats to find their nominee Saturday. Rivera and retired Unified Police Chief Steve Anjewierden were the top two vote-getters after the first round of voting. But neither received 60 percent of the ballots, forcing a runoff between the two.
During the second round of voting, Rivera collected nearly 70 percent of the votes. The three candidates that did not make it past the first round of voting — Unified Police Sgt. Levi Hughes, Utah Transit Authority Chief Fred Ross, and Unifed police detective Ken Hansen — all stood with Rivera and held up her election signs when she addressed a packed auditorium before the runoff ballot began.
"It meant the world to me, because we built that partnership. That’s a perfect example of community policing partnership,” she said.
All of the candidates agreed that the short race to find a replacement for Winder was a friendly campaign. Anjewierden was the first to grab the microphone after the election results were read to congratulate Rivera.
Anjewierden retired from law enforcement in February after 25 years with the Unified Police Department/Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office. He was chief of the Kearns/Magna precinct at the time of his retirement.
Each of the five candidates delivered a five-minute speech before the first round of voting. All of them talked about developing better relations between officers and the community, and each made promises to address the problems of jail overcrowding, the homeless population and the opioid epidemic.
“It is crucial that law enforcement build trust and make authentic connections with all of our communities, but especially with our communities of color,” said Anjewierden. “We must measure our success not by the arrests that we make but by the quality of life in our community."
Before Ross gave his speech, his former boss, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank made an impassioned pitch for him. Burbank mainly addressed the homeless crisis around the Rio Grande area, stating that it started becoming unmanageable after Ross left the department to become chief of UTA.
“What is missing from law enforcement today? Empathy, compassion and humanity. We are not walking people away from suffering from homelessness. We should not arrest people for walking a shopping cart, traveling to and from in order to secure housing,” Burbank said.
“In two short years (since Ross left the department), it has fallen apart because they have moved away from the values that Fred Ross has.”
Rivera advocated for more community policing, “so we can get together and work on the homeless issue, the jail bed issue, the opioid epidemic. We, together, can speak out on domestic violence protective order laws. We, together, can ensure there is equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for everyone.”
She said she wants to implement community policing in all aspects of law enforcement, including in the jail.
"I want to make sure we have an understanding of who these people are, what’s best for them and what resources we can provide for them,” Rivera said.
She also wants to have good relationships with local and state leaders, noting that they have to hold up their end to help with problems such as homelessness and protective orders in domestic violence cases.
"It’s all about problem solving to keep everyone safe," she said.
Rivera also talked about her faith and how she believes becoming sheriff "was the plan" all along. She recalled watching police shows on TV as a child and wanting to become an officer since she was a little girl. But she became a mother at age 15, forcing her to temporarily work in other areas in order to support her son until years later when she was able to begin pursing her law enforcement dream again.
"But then I came back to that same path. So I truly believe this has been a plan all along,” she said.
Rivera said she also plans on running for sheriff again during the 2018 election.
Many of the county’s top Democrats were in attendance, including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, County Clerk Sherrie Swensen and Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek. County Democratic Party Chairman Quang Dang thanked Winder, who was not present, for his years of service, before the vote.
Winder stepped down as sheriff in July to become Moab’s new police chief.