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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore Jr. speaks at Tuesday's meeting.

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — The Cottonwood Heights City Council decided Tuesday night to create its own police department and withdraw from its current contract with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department.

The city will benefit from the decision by being better able to deploy its resources, improve officer availability and response times, properly manage mutual aid requests, better control budgetary pressures and better control the hiring and termination of law enforcement personnel, according to the resolution that created the force.

The city will draw needed funds for start-up costs and increased patrol from current coffers, said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore Jr. Taxes will not be raised, he promised.

"Public Safety is our number one goal," said council member Gordan Thomas. "I believe we can provide services without breaking the bank or significantly diminishing services."

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has voiced strong opposition to the city's decision. His department has served the city under contractual agreement since its incorporation three years ago.

In that time, the Sheriff's Department has failed to fully meet its contractual obligations, Cullimore said. It also removed Cottonwood Heights' top officer without input from the city.

In addition, no sheriff's deputies were available to respond to a Nov. 28 burglary in the city. Burglars in one of two heists that night got away with about $100,000 in computer parts. This brought to the fore concerns that Cottonwood Heights government was unable to prioritize its own cases.

In contrast, sheriff's deputies were able to detain an armed robber in December before the man even left the check-cashing business he robbed.

Salt Lake Police Lt. Paul Jaroscak said no officers would have been able to respond to the burglary incident even if they had been in Cottonwood Heights, as the alarm company hired by the store called police only after the burglars were gone.

Winder has said the city is sacrificing public safety in creating its own department.

The city has been formally studying the issue since June, when it commissioned the first of two feasibility studies from Bonneville Research.

"Every 18, or 16 cities in the county should be under one umbrella," Cottonwood Heights resident Don Machim said just before Tuesday's meeting. "Not all law enforcement should have their private little ones."

Machim was one of about 100 people who attended Tuesday's meeting. Several people stood in the back, as all chairs in the council chamber room were filled.

Cottonwood Heights resident Bill Morris, a Park City police officer who works part time for Murray Police as a hostage negotiator, agreed Tuesday with the council and mayor.

"I think that local control over law enforcement is very important," he said. "I believe it's time for the city to have its own police department, for a lot of reasons."

Morris added that agreements between police departments in geographically close cities work beautifully. Cottonwood Heights began negotiations to enter into such contracts prior to Tuesday's meeting.

The change from contracted law enforcement to independent policing will take about six months, according to a study commissioned by the city. The city is also required to give the Sheriff's Department 180 days' notice of its intent to withdraw from its contract. It did not do so Tuesday.

Winder said after Tuesday's meeting the Sheriff's Department will be available for every citizen of the county. However, he said the city claims it will be able to provide all services for itself.

Their decision will force them to rely on Midvale, Murray and Sandy for services, he said, so the decision is unfair to residents of those cities.

The change may cost the city between $1.6 million and $2.6 million plus an increase in annual costs of about $600,000. It will also allow qualify the city for federal grants and will allow it to build equity in its own equipment, according to Bonneville Research. However, no budgets have been approved nor have other specifics been decided.


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