SOUTH SALT LAKE — Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has given hundreds, if not thousands, of speeches during his career.
And not one of them was prepared.
Sometimes Winder's off-the-cuff remarks resulted in memorable quotes such as, "I don't know if they could find their rear end with both hands," when he was referring to two burglary suspects arrested in 2008.
And other times, the sheriff has delivered powerful, unifying talks while speaking at an officer's funeral or addressing the climate of relations between police and the public.
Whether he's holding a press conference, addressing community council members, speaking to his own officers, talking to students at a school or giving interviews to the media, Winder did every one without prepared notes or a scripted speech.
"I try to view what I say not as speeches. To me, when I go to an event — such as a graduation or a community event — I perceive that people want to hear what you actually have to say. Oftentimes I think of something that I want to share with people. And to me, that’s the way to go. I don’t know if it’s anything extraordinary. But I try to say what I mean,” the sheriff said.
Winder will officially step down from his office on Sunday and make the move to Moab to become that city's new police chief.
Since becoming sheriff in 2006, Winder says he is proud of many of his achievements, including the creation of the Unified Police Department.
But in the past six months, it's been the controversy regarding Winder's jail booking policy, his proposals about dealing with Salt Lake City's homeless problem and his souring relationship with the Salt Lake City Police Department that have grabbed the most headlines.
Winder says despite his 32 years in law enforcement, he knows "you're judged by the last 15 minutes." In Winder's view, a person has to either be a cop or a politician. And when he caught himself becoming more of the latter, he knew it was time to move on.
"The issue with Salt Lake City, from my perspective, is about a six-month deal. Granted, it’s been very high profile, it’s gotten a lot of ink, people have taken positions on it and all that. But it has not always been there. In fact, quite the contrary, during the early phases of Chief (Mike) Brown’s tenure, we had, in my opinion, one of the best relationships we’ve ever had with Salt Lake City," he said.
"What I’ve realized is I’ve tried to push initiatives, granted for what I think are very legitimate reasons. But it's turned into political discussions. And when I get into that realm, I realize I’m not being successful at that. That is hugely frustrating and it’s not right."
Winder, an East High and Westminster College alum, began his three decade career in law enforcement with the Utah Department of Corrections and the Utah State Prison, followed by some time with Adult Probation and Parole.
In 1985 he became a reserve deputy for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office and was hired full-time two years later. In 1990, Winder was transferred to the K-9 unit, one of his passions, and promoted to sergeant in 1993.
In 2002, Winder made a run for Summit County sheriff but lost to Sheriff Dave Edmunds. The experience from that campaign, however, was invaluable.
In November 2006, Winder defeated longtime Republican Sheriff Aaron Kennard. It was considered an upset victory as Kennard was not only the four-term incumbent, but Winder trailed in the polls by 30 points just a month earlier.
It was during that campaign that Winder questioned whether Kennard was more in tune with police or politicians.
"I remember distinctly when I was in my race with Sheriff Kennard, I accused him of being a politician. And I remember as clear as day he said, ‘You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re not going to be a politician.’ And I scoffed. But one of the reasons I felt the need to depart is, the reality is I felt I was drifting more toward exactly that.
"And not belittling my predecessor because I think he did amazing things around here, but I think the minute you view this as a political job, it’s time to get gone,” Winder said.
Winder admits that many of the issues surrounding him and his department lately have become political. And he feels that has taken attention away from important issues.
"So the risk is there. When you come into the job, there’s a lot of pressure to become a politician,” he said. "I never, ever, ever wanted to be that. I really didn’t. And as soon as I saw that I was becoming it, it’s time to go. When you’re in a room and you’re not able to be productive, then it’s time to leave the room."
Winder also admits that several recent tragedies within the department, including the murder of officer Doug Barney in 2016, followed by the deaths of three officers at the beginning of 2017 — all within one month of each other due to medical conditions — deeply affected him. The care that Winder has for his officers was evident as he paused during his interview with the Deseret News to collect his thoughts as he recalled the unexpected death of officer Brian Holdaway just down the hall from his office.
But the sheriff said he also leaves behind many achievements that he's proud of, starting with the creation of the Unified Police Department. Winder is also proud of the changes that have been made inside the Salt Lake County Jail.
"We have a saying around here: 'Nobody grows up thinking they’re going to work in a jail,'" he said.
But getting jail staffers to understand the job they do is important has changed both the way inmates are treated and how they are viewed by staffers, Winder said. Most of those who are booked into jail come with years of drug addiction behind them. But after a few weeks of sobering up while incarcerated, staffers begin to see the "real" person behind the inmate.
Winder said he regularly gets former inmates coming up to him and thanking him for the way his jail staffers treated him while incarcerated. The sheriff said changing the perception of the jail has been important to him, and he wants his staffers to feel like they make a difference while they are there.