A House committee favorably recommended a bill to dissolve the Unified Police Department on Wednesday, a day after the Salt Lake County sheriff reluctantly agreed to back the proposal.

Created in 2010, the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake is an interlocal law enforcement agency that provides services to several cities and townships in Salt Lake County. HB374 sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said that residents of cities like his are double taxed: once for their municipal police force and once for Unified police, which is funded by county taxes.

He said the police department was created with the intent to form a metro police force in Salt Lake County, which would hopefully extend to cover most, if not all, of the cities in the county.

"The exact opposite has happened," he told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday. "That continues to shrink, and (the Unified Police Department) only services some areas of the county."

Teuscher also said the current model creates a conflict of interest because the elected county sheriff also serves as the CEO of the Unified force. A separate chief of police oversees day-to-day operations for the Unified Police Department.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said she believes the department should remain in place but agreed to support the bill after realizing that opposition to the countywide police department is here to stay.

A recent substitute to the bill would extend the dismantling of the department to July 1, 2025, in an effort to give cities served by the department more time to negotiate contracts with the county sheriff or form their own agencies before they lose service.

Teuscher's bill doesn't preclude cities from coming together to create new interlocal agencies akin to the Unified force, but it ends the current structure.

Not everyone agrees that dissolving the Unified Police Department is the best course of action, and some still worry that two years isn't enough time for smaller cities and townships to implement alternatives, potentially leaving them with few public safety options when the bill goes into effect.

Law enforcement listen to HB374 regarding county sheriffs ammendments during the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
Law enforcement listen to HB374 regarding county sheriffs ammendments during the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Kearns Mayor Kelly Bush said her metro township — which hosts the Utah Olympic Oval — should be preparing for a potential bid to host future Olympic Games.

"How do I do that, not knowing where my law enforcement agency stands today?" she asked the committee. "And two years is not enough to enter into any program with any city that is going to provide the services that we need."

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini also said the Unified Police Department is a valuable service for his city, as it provides residents with a "far more robust" police force than they would otherwise be able to afford. HB374, in his view, "throws the baby out with the bathwater" rather than resolving some of the individual concerns with the force.

Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Sale Lake, asked the committee to hold the bill this year, but Teuscher said he doesn't think further study or discussion on other solutions would yield results and plans to move the bill forward.

"I think the bottom line here is we have a significant problem here," Teuscher said. "And this is not a problem that was just created in the last few months. ... This gives us a time frame in order to work toward something."

HB374 ultimately passed the committee 9-4 and will head to the House floor. Ballard was joined by Democratic Reps. Sahara Hayes, Sandra Hollins and Andrew Stoddard in opposition to the bill.

The bill marks Teuscher's second attempt in the past two years to change the structure of Unified Police Department. During the 2022 session, he proposed legislation that would prohibit someone from serving as both the CEO of the department and as county sheriff at the same time, citing an "inherent conflict of interest" in that structure. County and local leaders at that time asked to be able to work the issues out on their own without state lawmakers stepping in.