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Legislation could halt Granite's police force

Department costs district $1.42 million each year

Published: Saturday, Jan. 22 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

State Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, a teacher in Granite School District, says he has decided to push a bill to abolish that district's controversial police department.

SIZE="2">Additional information:
The Deseret Morning News examined the operations of the Granite District Police Department two weeks ago in its Jan. 9 Sunday Extra.

Read it here: Jan. 9: School patrol

That comes after a Granite officer was charged this week with aggravated assault for shooting an unarmed burglary suspect in October after a high-speed chase in Salt Lake City — which is outside the suburban school district's boundaries.

The department has been involved in other controversial chases and shootings outside its boundaries. The cost of the department is also controversial. The district says it saves money by preventing more burglaries and vandalism, but critics argue that lawsuits from shootings and other heavy-duty police work could erase savings.

"My bill will prohibit school districts from operating their own police departments," Holdaway said. The Legislature passed a law in 1985 that allowed them to operate such departments.

Granite is currently the only district in the state that has one, spending $1.42 million a year on it and its 16 officers. Jordan School District recently disbanded its police department, saying it saved $600,000 a year of the $800,000 it had been spending. (The rest went for a contractor to monitor alarm systems.)

Martin Bates, assistant for policy and legal services to Granite Superintendent Stephen F. Ronnenkamp, said the school district will have no comment on Holdaway's bill until it sees a copy. "We don't know what to respond to until we've seen it," he said.

Holdaway said he expects to introduce the bill next week and believes that chances are good for passage this session. "It affects only Granite district, so I don't expect a lot of opposition from other areas," he said.

Holdaway, a special education teacher at Taylorsville High School, had been considering pushing such a bill for months over concern that the department drains too much from educational programs.

He said the charging of officer Richard Todd Rasmussen in the shooting this week convinced him to go forward, both over concern about police activities and how such might increase costs amid tight education budgets.

Holdaway said managers of a state insurance pool told him the incident with Rasmussen is making them reconsider their longtime practice of not charging Granite higher premium rates than other districts, despite its operating a police department and risking more lawsuits because of heavy-duty police work.

Earlier this month in a News Extra examining the benefits and risks of the department, district officials defended the department — but others said city and county police could do the same work and avoid the higher financial risk from lawsuits that the department brings.

For example, County Sheriff Aaron Kennard asked, "Why would Granite want to take on that liability instead of police departments? It just takes one bad shooting for all the costs you think you have saved to go out the window" because of lawsuits.

However, Ronnenkamp said extra police presence by the department has cut vandalism and theft so much through the years that it alone "has almost paid for the police department."

He said having police work closely with schools has also thwarted several school shootings.

While the department says schools are its focus, it has made news for incidents either outside its boundaries or only marginally involving schools — such as the October chase and shooting in Salt Lake City, which began when officers staked out a home, seeking a suspect in school burglaries.

Another incident was a high-speed chase in 2001 that injured seven people, including three bystanders, in South Salt Lake. A Granite officer pursued a car seen near Granite High School after discovering it had a stolen license plate. Both Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake have policies banning high-speed pursuits for such crimes.

Another was a 1999 shooting when two Granite officers and two sheriff's deputies killed a man who reached for a shotgun after a chase ended on I-215 in Murray. It began in West Jordan (also outside the district) when a Granite officer spotted a car that matched one sought by West Jordan police for an armed robbery. The shooting was ruled as justified.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com