The Salt Lake County Council took a bold step this week when it voted to move ahead in creating a police district under Sheriff Jim Winder.
To make the model work, Winder will cede control of financial and policy decision to an administrative control board comprised of cities that contract with the office for police services and county officials.
Establishing a unified police force ought to put an end to cities breaking their contracts with the sheriff for police protection and forming their own municipal police departments.
City officials say having their own police departments enhances local control and police response times. The trade-offs are limited resources and fractured law enforcement in the county, things that are not in the best interest of county residents. Often, criminals do not confine their misdeeds to a particular city. Having a single, countywide police force would better enable police to track these individuals and to share information with other agencies.
The police district envisioned by the County Council is a long way from a single countywide police agency, which would be the most efficient use of tax revenue. Even in its limited form, the police district envisioned by the County Council is a step in the right direction. We hope petty politics won't get in the way.
Three cities, Cottonwood Heights, Taylorsville and Draper, have formed their own police departments. Meanwhile, Holladay, Herriman, Bluffdale and Riverton, contract with the county sheriff. The sheriff also provides police protection for the canyons of unincorporated Salt Lake County. The County Council fears if any other cities abandon their contracts with the sheriff's office, residents of the unincorporated county will shoulder too much of the cost of policing. The financial implications of that trend are troubling.
The best argument for unified policing is enhanced crime fighting. Criminals can strike several times in different locations before police agencies in separate municipalities have an opportunity to piece together such events. Separate investigations waste time and resources. It makes more sense to have a single agency, with broader and deeper resources, on the case. A unified police district would provide that.