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Utah city urged to disband police

By Rebecca Palmer
The Deseret Morning News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Concerned South Salt Lake residents have asked the City Council to look at disbanding the police department and paying the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement services.

Brian Goldhardt has led the charge and has been meeting with officials since December, he said.

"There is a group of us wanting some change in the city," he said. "(The police department) needs more help. The crime rate has gone up."

Goldhardt first became concerned when he read a story in the Deseret Morning News in November that said South Salt Lake had the highest ratio of violent crime in the state. His interest was further piqued when the tires of 50 cars were slashed in his neighborhood during the 20 minutes between a call to police about a suspicious person and their arrival.

Goldhardt believes the police department is doing the best it can but believes it should be better staffed. He shares frustration with city leaders over a change in state law that greatly diminished the amount of money the city received from sales taxes. That revenue cut has decreased budgets across the board, including for public safety.

"By going to the county, not only do we get a better service, we pay less for it," he said. "They offer better service at a fraction of the cost." The sheriff's office could cut expenses for the city by sharing services such as its SWAT team, Goldhardt said. The saved money could mean more officers on the street.

"I feel better sleeping at night knowing someone is out patrolling," he said.

South Salt Lake Mayor Bob Gray first learned of Goldhardt's efforts Friday.

"I don't think that this has any support in the council and it definitely doesn't have support by me," he said. "I think our police department is doing an excellent job. We're providing as good a service as can be provided."

Goldhardt has rallied about 90 residents, many of whom are making calls to other city residents, asking them to call council members.

The City Council could look at the issue as soon as Feb. 27, said Councilman Shane Siwick.

"It's citizen driven, and I believe we have an obligation and responsibility to look at it if it comes from a group of citizens," he said.

Siwick added that he hasn't decided his opinion on the issue but will make his decision based on the number of man hours available relative to money spent.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said discussions with the city are very preliminary but that the sheriff's office is willing to look at contracting with any city in the county.

A representative of the sheriff's office would be able to study the possibility of contracting and prepare a presentation very quickly, he said.

The movement to contract with the sheriff for law enforcement services in South Salt Lake stands in stark contrast to the city of Cottonwood Heights, which recently chose to drop its contract in favor of creating its own department. Holladay is also considering pulling out of the sheriff's office.

Goldhardt said he is concerned about those cities leaving but would just like the council to discuss the issue. Contracting may not be the best way, he said, but the council should try to discover what would be best.

Copyright 2008 Deseret Morning News

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