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Largest sheriff department in Utah being broken up

The Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Incredible Shrinking Sheriff could get even smaller.

First-term Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder – already seeing cities peel away from his service – could see his authority shrivel further under a Senate bill that would strip the Democrat’s control over day-to-day law enforcement and hand it to the Republican-led County Council.

SB253, sponsored by GOP Sen. Michael Waddoups, would make the council the top cop in contracting with communities for K-9, narcotics and other law enforcement. The council also could decide to share power with the suburbs, a giant step toward the Unified Police District that failed last year.

“You can either let the cities leave on their own, or we can give them a reason to stay together,” Republican Councilman Mark Crockett said.

But the bill has left Winder bristling, particularly provisions that would allow the county’s unincorporated townships to stray from the sheriff’s office and pay another police agency for protection.

“The citizens of this county did not make a decision to fire me,” he said. “They made the decision to hire me.”
The elected sheriff fears the council would more readily contract with surrounding cities for a cafeteria-style selection of law-enforcement services, leading to a further splintering of resources.

Battle lines were drawn along party lines Tuesday with four Republicans favoring council control and four Democrats condemning it. Republican David Wilde was absent.

“It cuts out the sheriff,” Councilman Joe Hatch griped. “It cuts him out, just him.”

The measure could reshape the law-enforcement landscape. Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said it could serve as a forerunner to a metro police district. It also could turn the sheriff into a glorified jailer without any control over law enforcement even in county townships.

The sheriff argues his opposition has nothing to do with power.

“If a legitimate model for metropolitan policing is ever floated in this valley, we’ll walk from municipal policing,” he said. “I don’t give a damn if I run anything.”

Republicans disagree. They say the defection of suburbs such as Cottonwood Heights from the sheriff’s fold is all about control.

“While the sheriff is interested in kingdom-building,” GOP Councilman Jeff Allen said, “this would ensure the survivability of law enforcement throughout the county.”

Copyright 2008 The Salt Lake Tribune

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