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Draper refuses public vote on new police force

Contracting police not legislative role, city officials say

DRAPER — The question of whether this south Salt Lake Valley city should have its own police department will not appear on the election ballot.

But it could end up on a court docket.

After the city refused to accept a citizens initiative petition seeking a public vote on the issue, organizers of the petition drive vowed Wednesday to take the matter all the way to the Utah Supreme Court if necessary.

"All we ask for is a vote on this thing . . . The people should be making the decision," said co-organizer Barry Skinner, whose attorney is now considering the group's legal options.

"And right from the get-go, in January, they said they wouldn't let the people vote on it because the average person wasn't informed enough" to decide.

Skinner and his four co-sponsors — Angela Anderson, Bruce Ballard, Lisa Brown and Judith Schlmeier — gathered 1,200 signatures for their petition. It requested that the city hold a vote on whether it to keep its police force, which has been on the job since July 1, or once again contract for law enforcement services with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.

But city recorder Melanie Dansie informed the group last Friday that while the signatures were valid, the city was dismissing the petitions because it believes the act of contracting for services is an "administrative" function rather than a "legislative" one. And "the proposed law is not a proper subject for the initiative process," according to a statement released by the city.

A legislative action, a vote by the City Council earlier this year, was required to create the Draper Police Department. But Draper City Attorney Todd Godfrey said it is clear to him that the proposal made by the petitioners is an administrative matter.

"I think any contract really falls into that," he said.

Godfrey said state law requires the city to accept all petitions even if it believes it will ultimately reject them. He said some city officials wanted to tell the petitioners, before they made the effort to collect signatures, that it would do no good. But the law mandates otherwise, he said.

"I really do sympathize, but the city didn't have a choice, legally," he said. "They certainly have the ability to go to the courts to have an issue decided."

Godfrey said if the petitioners do take legal action, he doesn't anticipate a "long, drawn-out" process before a decision is reached.

The city sent out a press release announcing the decision Tuesday. At the same time, it sent out a longer press release calling the new police department's first two months a "success," and listing quotes of praise from anonymous residents.

According to the second press release, a recent survey of residents showed 59 percent of respondents rated the police department's performance as excellent or good while only 23 percent rated its performance as fair or poor.

The police department has responded to 3,000 calls in its first two months. And the city has obtained $212,000 in grant money to help fund police activities in Draper, according to the release.

Skinner said the opponents are most concerned about the cost of running an independent police department, and also fear the city won't be able to provide the same depth of protection and services provided by the county.

"We don't have all the protection with the city police as we do with the county sheriff," Skinner said. "They (the sheriff's department) have K-9, criminal investigation and a SWAT team."

Skinner is a concerned any homicide in Draper would "not be investigated right. They don't have the proper tools to do so."

City spokesman Jeff Hymas said while Draper's 23-person police force does not have a K-9 unit or a formal SWAT team — most small departments don't — it does have "those people we can call on if we really need their help.

"Law enforcement is a community that helps each other out, and we can call upon any law enforcement agency in this valley," including the sheriff's department, Hymas said.

And on the Draper force itself, "all of the expertise is here. We have people with years of experience in every area of law enforcement. And they've already worked on several big cases and had no problems taking on those cases. . . . We have guys on our force who've been through SWAT training and have been on SWAT teams."

Hymas said Draper does not have a detectives division but instead uses a community policing approach in which each officer handles his own criminal investigations, including any follow-up.

And having a police force will eventually save Draper residents money, he said.

"It's going to be less expensive each year. There was an initial start-up cost," Hymas said. "More than just the expense, we needed a department that could take ownership in the community and work together with citizens.

"It's definitely going to be the best thing for the city."

That sentiment is not shared, however, by at least 1,200 of Draper's 29,000 residents.


E-mail: zman@desnews.com