MOAB — A police force struggling to keep pace with tourism in Utah's iconic red rock country is getting ready to welcome its new leader: outgoing Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.
Winder is expected to start his new job as Moab police chief around July 1 after the Moab City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve his hire.
"We're really excited," Moab Mayor David Sakrison said Wednesday. "This is a big deal for us." Sakrison said Winder's long career in law enforcement will benefit the desert community.
Winder has said the prospect of a fresh start 200 miles south appealed to him because he was troubled by the deaths of several Salt Lake officers and by a nagging overcrowding problem in his county's jail.
Winder was house shopping in Moab Wednesday and did not respond to a request for comment. He announced May 30 he would step down as Salt Lake County sheriff.
In Moab, the force of 17 officers has struggled to keep pace with an uptick in police calls as mountain bikers, hikers, rafters and other adventurers flock to its trails and campsites. The influx causes the town's population of 5,000 to quadruple on weekends, Sakrison said.
In the 5-0 vote greenlighting his hire on Tuesday, the Moab council also allowed its city manager to raise a salary cap for the police chief from around $135,000 to $150,000, Sakrison said. The figure does not include benefits, and Winder's exact yearly pay has yet to be hammered out, Sakrison said.
Winder's Salt Lake salary, including benefits, is $218,000, according to the public records website Utah's Right to Know.
The outgoing sheriff and Salt Lake City police have butted heads over how to address homelessness and free up more jail beds. But Sakrison has no concerns about the public sparring, saying he's confident Winder will be good to work with.
Moab's officers are young, Sakrison added, so Winder's three decades in the Salt Lake Sheriff's Office will make him a good mentor to newcomers.
"Their loss is our gain," Sakrison said.
Interim Moab Police Chief Steve Ross is set to retire June 30.