WEST VALLEY CITY — The West Valley City Police Department's new chief says it's time to beef up the rank and file.
Chief Lee Russo told KSL NewsRadio's Doug Wright on Thursday that he is looking to hire about 20 new officers over the next year or so, noting that he has a "significant shortage in the agency."
Getting new officers into the department to take the stress off his already overworked staff was a "top priority" for the department, Russo said.
The new chief said he wants to get his department back to offering services that go beyond responding to 911 calls and increase the patrol division, as well as some of the special units in his department.
The hiring process comes on the heels of a public relations nightmare for the department, highlighted by the disbanding of its Neighborhood Narcotics Unit, the firing of an officer from that unit, and the fatal officer-involved shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard during a failed drug bust. The shooting was ruled unjustified by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
But after spending time in his new position and getting to know his staff, Russo said he's found that "overall, I came in with the impression things would be a lot worse than what they are."
Russo said there were a few "bad apples that made poor decisions," but that overall he found those problems were "not indicative of the entire agency."
The goal now, he said, is to fill vacant positions and others that are expected to become vacant over the next year or two through retirement by attracting quality officers to West Valley City.
"I'm not just going to hire a warm body to put someone in a police car," Russo said. "I'm going to do the things that I feel are in the best interest of the police department and the city."
The new chief admitted to Wright there were some differences in West Valley City compared with his previous job at the Covington Police Department in Kentucky that took some getting used to. But overall, he said, he and his wife have enjoyed their move.
Russo still needs to become certified by Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training before he can perform "police functions," but he can act as a department head until then.
All new officers in Utah must be certified by POST under state law. That includes a written exam and physical fitness test. The test is the same for every candidate, regardless of age.
Russo, 49, admitted he's still adjusting to Utah's "thin air" and hopes to have the physical fitness portion completed in a couple of weeks. The fitness portion includes meeting certain marks in pushups, situps, running and jumping.
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