SOUTH SALT LAKE — The Unified Police Department has been hit with several tragedies over the past year and a half, starting with the shooting death of officer Doug Barney.
For Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, a man who cares deeply about his employees, those events — Barney's death in particular — have had a big effect on him. It was something, he admitted, he never anticipated happening on his watch.
"It changed me," he said Tuesday. "It changed me a great deal going through that particular situation."
It was in part because of those tragedies and the impact they had on Winder that he says he took a step back to evaluate where he was, both professionally and personally in his life, and decided it might be time for a change in leadership at the sheriff's office.
On Tuesday, after weeks of rumors, an emotional Winder confirmed he plans to step down to become the new police chief of Moab.
"I think one of the important functions of a leader, if I can call myself one, is the recognition of one's circumstances and the time to know when it's time for a change," he said. "All too often, I think, in government individuals will stay in their positions of authority that have been granted by the citizens we serve, with kind of a death-like grip. I think people perceive the office is them. Their identity becomes wrapped up in the title and the trappings of the organization. And that is a tragedy."
Moab City Manager David Everitt confirmed Tuesday that Mayor Dave Sakrison had appointed Winder to be the next chief subject to confirmation by the Moab City Council.
“Jim is the consummate public safety expert with decades of relevant experience,” Sakrison said in a prepared statement. “His approach to policing is exactly what Moab needs right now, and I am heartened to know he will lead our department into the future."
The council will vote on Winder's appointment either on June 13 or June 27, Everitt said. While he said he could not speak for the council members, he acknowledged it would be a big surprise if Winder was not confirmed.
Moab has been seeking a new police chief since September, when Chief Mike Navarre resigned after 16 years with the department.
Winder said his talks with the city started several weeks ago in a "very serendipitous" way during a fallen officer memorial motorcycle ride. Sakrison told him they were looking for a new chief. Over the next little while, Winder said he had the opportunity to attend several city meetings.
"During the course of those meetings it became very evident that the philosophy of the leadership of Moab is one that I share deeply. They seem to be a community that is extremely committed to both the environment, the citizens that they serve, and the opportunities for growth and moving their community into the future," he said.
For Winder, he said the move will also be a chance for him and his family to "rejuvenate."
"I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled and excited I am about the opportunity to work a new challenge in Moab," he said. "Some would say, 'Why would you go to a small town?' Moab is a bustling place. It's a happening place. The daily influx of visitors is significant and the residents down there are struggling to keep pace, and what they need is quality, dedicated law enforcement."
Winder said there are still important projects on Salt Lake County's plate that he will continue to work on before he leaves, including jail space. The sheriff admitted that he is nervous about leaving those projects unfinished, but je also said the recent fights over jail beds and his booking policy had been draining.
While he'll continue fighting for those projects until the day he leaves office, Winder admitted Tuesday that his departure may also help the process move along. He hopes those issues could be discussed without personality conflicts getting in the way.
As an example, he said his proposed controversial 21-point plan on how to deal with the homeless problem in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood, for example, might be able to generate some real discussion if his name is no longer attached to it.
That's why Winder hopes the person who replaces him is someone who has no intention of running for sheriff in 18 months when Winder's term ends. Otherwise, the campaigning from candidates would begin soon and distract from the work that needs to be done, he said.
Winder, who is in his third term, said he already knew he had no intention of running for a fourth term as sheriff.
Utah's Democratic party will pick three candidates to submit to the Salt Lake County Council to fulfill the remainder of Winder's term. The sheriff said he has a very strong opinion about who his choice to replace him should be, but he declined to reveal that name Tuesday.
As Winder put it, he wants someone who will "make the trains run on time" but isn't interested in running for sheriff in 18 months. He hopes his temporary replacement is someone who can focus on issues such as the budget and the jail and keep politics out.
Although he is excited about the prospect of working in Moab, Winder said he has enjoyed the "awesome opportunity" to be the Salt Lake County sheriff more than anything in his life.
Many of Winder's top command staff present for Tuesday's press conference were visibly emotional after the sheriff officially announced he is leaving.
"I have a lot of respect for Sheriff Winder," said Unified Police Capt. Justin Hoyal. "We're going to miss him."
"I just wish people knew the heart and soul and effort and love and sacrifice that he put into serving the members of this community," said Chief Deputy Shane Hudson. "You'll never find a sheriff that cares more about his people and about the community than Jim Winder. I guarantee you that."
If Winder is officially confirmed by the council to become sheriff, he would start in July, according to Everitt. Winder said he expects at most it would take 60 days for the transition to be completed.