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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Bluffdale snubs UPD, OKs policing contract with Saratoga Springs

BLUFFDALE — Citing mounting costs and increased frustrations with the Unified Police Department, the Bluffdale City Council on Tuesday voted to ditch Salt Lake County's police force in favor of a department in Utah County.

The 4-1 vote authorizes the south valley city to contract with Saratoga Springs — a city eight miles away — for police service.

The contract, which will take effect in three months, will cost Bluffdale $687,583 ($643,983 by year two) and guarantees an officer in the city 24 hours a day.

At the core of Bluffdale's concerns with UPD was the amount of coverage.

Bluffdale wants an officer dedicated to the city around the clock, which UPD has never provided. Although three officers are assigned to Bluffdale, they're headquartered in Herriman and, city leaders say, rarely in Bluffdale.

"We work hard to try and make sure these officers stay in our city," said Mark Reid, city manager. "But it's obvious to us the officer assigned to Bluffdale doesn't spend the vast majority of his time in the city."

Officers are scheduled to be in the city 15.4 hours a day, but in actuality they're in Bluffdale only 8.6 hours, he said. One officer reported he rarely clocks half his time in the city, Reid said.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder took issue with that assertion. Within two to three months, each UPD car will have GPS technology that will track where officers spend their time, he said.

"I know this has been a strong point of tension, how much time is spent in the city," Winder said, encouraging the council to base its decision on data, not anecdotal hearsay.

"Is it anecdotal if I rarely see an officer in the city?" retorted Councilman Rod Flanigan. "You could put a timer, you could put GPS, you can call it anecdotal or empirical or whatever you want. But if we're not seeing them, they're not here."

Winder disputed data presented last Tuesday on UPD, stating it was 18 months old and inaccurate. He asked to present new numbers at another meeting before the council made a decision.

The council, though, has been studying the issue since the summer, spanning the election of a new mayor and two new city councilmen. Winder has made presentations at numerous meetings.

"I'm very disappointed in the county, in your proposal tonight," said resident Dennis Tolman. "You're better than what was presented. I know that for a fact. You need to pull yourselves together so the people of this community know what you're providing."

Public hearings have attracted few residents. Last Tuesday's meeting saw the highest turnout — roughly three-dozen people, including former council members.

Resident comments spanned the gamut.

"I think (Bluffdale residents) should know that the (UPD) budget has gone from $55,000 to where it is today ($656,531), and all we've had is a fourth of a patrolmen in our city," said Wayne Mortimer, a former mayor.

Bluffdale leaders have heard the county could sue them if they sign another contract. Questioned about it Tuesday, Winder said, although he doesn't speak for the UPD board, "I don't see any issues that would arise."

The dissenting vote came from Councilman Noell Nelson, a former mayor, who has been pushing for the city to form its own police force.

While the notion is appealing, creating a Bluffdale police department was discounted as being too pricey at $955,836 in the first year and $833,506 by year two.