One big county police department could be the wave of the future, under a new law passed late Wednesday night.

SB253 effectively forces Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder to start negotiating with the cities throughout the county to start a unified police department. If he doesn't succeed, the County Council could then go over the sheriff's head and negotiate with cities for police services.

The county has been trying to create a unified force for a few years now, but so far nothing has happened.

Now, the work will really begin, Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen said.

"It's a good step forward for public safety in Salt Lake County," Jensen said.

The county is trying to buck the trend of cities bolting from their contracts with the sheriff and starting their own police departments.

Cottonwood Heights recently started a police department, and even hired an employee from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office to be the new chief. Other cities like Taylorsville and Draper have also ended their contracts in the past.

Winder hopes those cities will once again team up with the sheriff's office to pool police services.

But at the very least, the bill will keep other cities from ending their contracts with the sheriff, Jensen said.

"I think this gives us the opportunity to be able to move forward with our current partner cities in keeping the sheriff's department whole as we know it today," Jensen said.

An effort to start the Unified Police Department failed a year ago in the name of local control. Cities wanted a bigger say on budgets and such, but current law gives the final say to the sheriff.

SB253 would create a governing board over the cooperative police effort, with the county receiving three votes and each city receiving one vote. The board would be in charge of policy and budgets.

That kind of control is exactly what Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall wants. His city ended its contract with the sheriff in 2004 after wrangling over contract issues became too much.

"The problem is, in the county, there are so many elected officials that you have to run through the gauntlet," Wall said earlier in the legislative session. "By the time you get through you don't have any semblance of a contract you can live with."

Both Taylorsville and Cottonwood Heights are interested in teaming up with the sheriff to pool some police services, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman said.

Holladay Mayor Dennis Webb said a regional approach to policing is the best, not the splintered approach the county is venturing into.

"That kind of concept would be best for the citizens of the county," Webb said.

Something needed to change at the sheriff's office, County Councilman Mark Crockett said. With just four contract cities left, residents of unincorporated Salt Lake County are paying more than their fair share for police services, Crockett said.

"Clearly on its face with all the cities that have left, the old model was not working for cities," Crockett said. "We'll be happy to adopt virtually any model if it works for both the cities and the unincorporated residents."

Winder has until May 5, 2009 to negotiate a regional police effort. If not, the County Council can go ahead and do it without his approval.

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