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Ex-S.L. County sheriff rails against cities leaving Unified police, calls out his successor

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder railed against cities abandoning the Unified Police Department — a multicity agency he helped create a decade ago — and said his successor isn't doing much to stop them.

"Cities are fleeing the Unified Police Department right now," he said. "Nothing has changed, ladies and gentleman, in that structure except for one thing, and that is the leadership of that organization."

A board made up of elected officials from the member cities oversees the department and the elected sheriff acts as the chief executive officer.

Winder, a three-term sheriff who unexpectedly resigned last year, didn't mention Sheriff Rosie Rivera by name during a news conference he called Tuesday, ostensibly to respond to a state audit of Unified police that he said contained inaccuracies and omissions.

Winder, now the Moab police chief, didn't have much of a beef with the audit, but took aim at Herriman, Cottonwood Heights and Riverton for leaving or preparing to leave the department and called on the sheriff's office to fight for all county residents.

An elected sheriff, he said, needs to represent people with "full force and vigor, and I haven't seen it."

"I have stood up," Rivera said. "But you know what? The cities have a right if they want to pull out, they can. We are fighting hard to keep them."

Herriman, she said, made the decision to leave two years ago, and she has told the city many times it made a mistake.

Winder said it all comes down to money. Those cities pay fees for baseline services established.

"The reason I believe cities are fleeing is out of greed," Winder said. "The cities want to leave because they're fat with cash and they want to start their own little charm bracelet departments."

Cottonwood Heights, he said, promised residents it would save money and improve services to have its own police department, "and they lied."

Riverton notified Unified police a few weeks ago that it intends to form its own department.

City manager Konrad Hildebrand said he has nothing negative to say about Unified police but wants to provide the best service at the best price for Riverton residents.

"We don't have any illusions that it costs money to run a police department," he said. "And we would not put a police department, if we did self-provide, which I'm not saying we are, we would provide the best police department that we could."

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs also reached out to the Deseret News with a prepared statement in response to Winder's press conference.

"It is unfortunate that former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder would make wild assertions that called into question the integrity and motivation of Riverton City's decision to provide its notice of intent to leave the Unified Police Department. Riverton's decision is based on efforts to safeguard taxpayers — period. That is not 'greed,'" Staggs said.

Staggs indicated members that have been in Unified Police Department for at least five years have a "right to their share of assets in the organization upon withdrawal." He said Winder helped set up that agreement.

"It is also very interesting that Jim would be so critical of cities that would look to leave UPD and self-provide law enforcement. He himself left his post as one who oversaw UPD to go to a small city that self-provides law enforcement," Staggs said.

Rivera said it's possible that Riverton will stay with Unified police.

The department provides law enforcement for Salt Lake County, Taylorsville, Copperton, White City, Holladay, Herriman, Emigration, Kearns, Magna, Midvale, Millcreek and Riverton. Each area pays fees for baseline services established by the board.

Contributing: Ashley Imlay, Paul Nelson