A police captain said the sheriff's office is discriminating against frustrated city officers by not allowing them equal access when it comes to booking prisoners into jail.
"The sheriff's deputies are getting preferential treatment," said Salt Lake police Capt. Aaron Kennard, who is hoping to unseat Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward in the upcoming November election.Kennard said jail officials have occasionally refused to book prisoners brought into the crowded facility by officers from city police forces but will then turn around and book prisoners brought in by deputy sheriffs for the same offense.
"One wears a green shirt (deputy sheriffs) and one wears a blue shirt (city officers). That's the only difference," he said. "I know that the county gets preferential treatment."
But Hayward, whose office is in charge of the jail facilities, denies the accusation and says Kennard is "out in left field."
"He really doesn't know what he's talking about," the sheriff said. "That's totally false!"
Hayward said he and his deputies are just as frustrated as other law enforcement officers because of the lack of jail space in the county, but he said the problem is one that will have to be dealt with until the new jail is completed in South Salt Lake. Construction on the misdemeanant facility is expected to begin next week.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Chabries said he has heard rumors of the deputies getting preferential priority at the jail, but he does not believe they are founded. "We've heard some accusations, but the sheriff has assured us this has not happened," he said.
"I've heard the same thing," said West Valley Assistant Police Chief Steve Shreeve, "but nobody can tell me dates, times and places."
Hayward, Chabries and Shreeve all said there is a lot of frustration among their officers because of the jail problem, and they believe that may be triggering the rumors of discrimination.
"Everyone's so frustrated with the jail situation and it puts a lot of pressure and anxiety on all police agencies," Chabries said.
But Kennard said there are small-scale solutions that can help ease the frustration many officers feel over not being able to book many misdemeanor offenders into the jail.
"He (Hayward) should have commandeered an armory long ago," Kennard said, explaining that other communities have used warehouses and tents to house prisoners who can't be booked into jail because the facilities are full.
He said officers should be allowed at least to process the prisoners by taking mug shots and fingerprints before releasing them on their own recognizance so a record of the crimes can be kept and warrants issued if the offenders do not show up in court.
Currently, misdemeanor offenders such as prostitutes are simply given a citation and released back to the streets, where they continue to solicit sex. Many give false names to officers, then rip up the citations and officers can do nothing about it. If officers could at least process the offenders, they could keep records and determine true identities through fingerprints.
Hayward said he would gladly set up such a system if he could. "If we had the money available to do it properly, that would be great," he said. The sheriff would like to have a judge available for a night court that could reliably determine the need for incarceration rather than just turn away all suspects in certain crime classifications when the jail is full.
Salt Lake County Commissioner Mike Stewart said funding for such a processing center was in the budget a year ago, but he said "there is some question whether the money is still there."
"But because it has such a high priority, I believe it would get funded by the commission again," he said.