What began as a bright idea by a new sheriff has turned into a sticky political mess, putting the state's two largest police agencies at odds over what is always a sore spot: unsolved murders.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard has organized a "multi-jurisdictional homicide task force" to reinvestigate unsolved cases over the past 15 years.But the bulk of the unsolved cases in the county are owned by the Salt Lake Police Department, which wants little to do with the task force.
The city police consider a homicide task force at this time a waste of money and manpower.
"If it ever came to the point that we thought we needed a task force, we'd be the first ones to do it," said Capt. Kent Livsey, who heads the Police Department's detective division.
Livsey said he is irritated that Kennard wants to delve into the city's unsolved cases, some of which are the subject of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against the city by a fired police officer who believes the city botched a serial-murder investigation.
The captain said that the mere existence of Kennard's task force may raise a sufficient amount of "reasonable doubt" over the Police Department's investigation to jeopardize the cases.
"If we get the killer, I don't think we'd be able to get a conviction," Livsey said. "I've been friends with Kennard for a long time, but to put those cases at risk for politics is really upsetting."
But on Monday, Kennard called a press conference to try to alleviate the Police Department's fears and to say that his task force, an idea he's been kicking around since his campaign, was not formed to undermine the police but to revisit more than a dozen unsolved cases in the county.
"The task force is directly charged not to interfere in any agency's investigation in any way," Kennard said. "The task force will only become involved in a case when the agency with original jurisdiction requests its involvement."
Kennard said his task force was not formed as a result of the murders that are the subject of a lawsuit filed by former police officer Frank Hatton-Ward, who believes police detectives ignored leads he had developed.
Because those murders - which include the shooting deaths of Christine Gallegos, Carla Maxwell and Lisa Strong - are controversial and in civil litigation, the Police Department is sensitive about any inquiries into them.
The police also are suspicious of Kennard's motives.
On Friday, Livsey said, sheriff's detectives met with two police detectives and said the new task force was most interested in the Gallegos, Maxwell and Strong murders.
That meeting came after Police Chief Ruben Ortega already had declined to join the sheriff's task force, Livsey said.
"It was a broadside shot out of the blue," Livsey said.
On Monday, however, Kennard said his detectives on Friday may have been a little overzealous. "These guys were excited," the sheriff said.
Ortega would not talk to the Deseret News, deferring to Livsey.
The captain said he wished Kennard had contacted him before forming the task force.
"I'm sure I could take Aaron and go over the whole (serial-murder) case with him," Livsey said. "He owed it to us. And then, if he thought we'd done a bad job, he could say that and go ahead with his task force. But he's never asked us . . .. He basically hit us right between the eyes."
Though the city will not actively participate, Kennard said he believes his task force - aided by innovative computer and in-ves-ti-ga-tive techniques - will be a valuable tool in finding out whether any of the unsolved cases can be cleared.
"By statute, I have the authority and the responsibility to do what I'm doing," Kennard said, noting he has the support of several local police departments and the state Department of Corrections.