Salt Lake County commissioners agree with 625 area police officers whose names appear on a petition that states a critical need exists for jail space in the county.
But commissioners didn't take well criticism of the efforts they have made to improve jail availability to law enforcement officers. In a Wednesday commission meeting, representatives of 10 law-enforcement departments in the county presented the petition to commissioners and asked them to extend their vision of future jail needs.Included in the petition is a request that the county jail not refuse to take prisoners, said Salt Lake City prosecutor Cheryl Luke, responding to the sheriff's-department practice of turning away minor misdemeanor offenders if the jail's population exceeds limits set recently by a federal magistrate. Luke said the county should at least "process" offenders it can't incarcerate before turning them back on the street.
Prostitutes, for example, tear up the citations in an officer's face when they can be identified only as a "Jane Doe" and aren't taken to jail, said Salt Lake City Police Maj. O.J. Peck.
Sheriff Pete Hayward said officers are welcome to bring prisoners to the jail for processing even if the jail can't incarcerate the prisoner.
"You need to take a leadership role," said Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Chabries. "We cannot tolerate individuals in this community - and your constituents cannot tolerate those individuals - not being taken into custody and incarcerated."
But Commission Chairman Mike Stewart shot back by reminding Chabries it was Salt Lake City that told the county in 1987 it couldn't build a misdemeanor offender facility on county-owned land adjacent to the county government center at 2100 S. State.
Midvale and West Valley City have also refused to let the county build jail space within their boundaries; and South Salt Lake fought the county's placement of the proposed Oxbow misdemeanor facility in that city, Stewart said.
With groundbreaking scheduled next week at the Oxbow site, South Salt Lake is still dragging its heels on planning matters, Stewart said.
"We`re riding this wave in our own canoe, alone," Stewart said, referring to the drying up of federal money and attacking the Legislature for creating stiffer sentencing penalties but not paying the associated higher jail costs.
Stewart said money is in the budget for a station that would process would-be prisoners and determine the need for incarceration on a more reliable basis than just turning away all suspects in certain crimes when the downtown jail is full. A proposed "boozer cruiser" that would remove public intoxicants from the street is also needed, he said.
Commissioner Tom Shimizu pointed to the county's spending patterns to show the emphasis the county has placed on jail needs. During the time the overall county budget has increased .1 percent the jail budget has shot up 50 percent, he said.
"We're not sitting on our hands and we've taken some aggressive leadership," Stewart said. "More is being done than law officers can see and appreciate."