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Sheriff's office localizes its forces

2 patrol districts divided into 6 smaller precincts

RIVERTON — The sheriff's office just became a little more local.

Early last month, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office divided its two large patrol districts into six smaller, localized precincts, with the goal of offering closer contact between sheriff's officials and the cities with which they contract.

"Because of our relationship with our contract cities . . . there has been an interest to have more localized control," Capt. Armand Glick of the new Southwest Precinct said.

While most of the new precincts are dedicated to one specific city or township, the Southwest Precinct covers a much larger area that includes Bluffdale, Riverton, Herriman and the unincorporated township of Copperton. West Jordan and South Jordan have their own city police forces.

In fact, it was the city-by-city creation of local police forces — most recently, Taylorsville broke away from the sheriff's office and launched its own police department in March — that sparked the idea of the reorganization.

Most cities in the Salt Lake Valley have their own police forces, many formed after cities complained that they weren't getting the kind of specialized, city-specific coverage they wanted from the sheriff's deputies. When Taylorsville created its police force, city officials talked about being charged too much for coverage that was inconsistent and fragmented.

In response, Sheriff Aaron Kennard has proposed the creation of a Unified Police Authority to take over many of the duties of the sheriff's office. During discussions with contract cities on the UFA idea, Glick said, the model most positively received was one that incorporates local precincts.

"That means there's a lot of local control," he said. "The city staff get to know those deputies. They're almost seen as city employees."

Before the creation of the precincts, the sheriff's office had a pool of deputies who may have patrolled Bingham Canyon one day, Kearns the next day and Millcreek the next.

"You had a little less consistency," Glick said.

Under the new plan, Glick foresees much more consistency.

Before, there were two divisions in the sheriff's office: the Wasatch District for all areas of sheriff's jurisdiction east of the Jordan River and the Oquirrh District for areas west of the river. Each of those districts is now divided into three precincts — Cottonwood Heights, Holladay and Millcreek in the east, and Kearns, Magna and Southwest in the west.

Each precinct has a captain in charge, with the exception of Cottonwood Heights, which is headed by a sheriff's lieutenant. Precinct offices give residents a place to file reports and give local deputies and captains a sense of location in the places they cover. The Southwest Precinct is preparing to move to its new office in Riverton at 1274 W. 12700 South. In spring, a second office will open in Herriman at 5600 West and 13200 South.

Deputies will be assigned to a precinct for a year. Each year, based on seniority, they can request to be moved to a new precinct, meaning cities and residents have at least a year to get to know their deputies while the deputies become more familiar with a specific part of the valley.

Under the new model, deputies assigned to schools, including part of the Sheriffs Assisting Youth and Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs, will be under precinct control.

"What that allows me to do is increase the information-sharing between the patrol deputies and the school officers," Glick said. "We're just a closer-knit unit."

The reorganization does not increase the number of deputies patrolling in any precinct. The Southwest Precinct has 27 deputies.

Riverton city manager Marc Cram said the change is not a big one, but it has been "seamless."

"I think it's a positive change, but it's not a huge change," he said. However, he clarified that he was not one of the people who believed a big change was necessary in the first place. "I'm not one who had a concern previously about the level of service, so from my standpoint, the service continues to be fine."

For other officials and residents, especially in the southwest part of the valley, where complaints about sheriff's coverage have been long-standing, localization may bring a greater comfort level, Glick said.

The precinct deputies will handle normal patrolling, traffic policing and smaller crimes, including property crimes investigation. Major duties such as investigation of robbery, homicide and narcotics will remain the responsibility of Special Weapons and Tactics and K-9 teams under the centralized control of the sheriff's office.

Glick said the sheriff's office worked closely with city officials and while the change may not be dramatic or obvious to the public, he believes it will make a big difference for the communities the sheriff's office patrols.

"The cities seem very happy with it," he said.