WEST VALLEY CITY — Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen announced his retirement Friday after 33 years with the department.
Nielsen apparently made the decision after undergoing "extensive surgery" that requires a long recovery process.
"He has concluded that in order for the department to move forward, it will require constant vigilance and strong leadership, which he feels he cannot provide during his recovery," West Valley City manager Wayne Pyle said. "After careful and thoughtful consideration of all options, he feels that it is in the best interest of the department and the city to step aside."
Nielsen has not set a formal date for his retirement but has been out since before his surgery. Pyle said Nielsen, who has been chief since 2002 and with the West Valley City Police Department since the city incorporated in 1980, will be missed.
"He's been a great chief," Pyle said. "No one is more dedicated to the mission of public safety. He loves his troops and has done a great job for the city. I am sorry to see him go."
Nielsen asked West Valley Police Capt. Anita Schwemmer to take on his responsibilities before surgery, and Pyle said she will stay in that role as acting chief until a new chief is appointed. Pyle will recommend a new chief and present that person to the City Council for approval.
He said finding Nielsen's replacement may take time, as he is still considering whether he will look in-house, recruit outside or look at candidates nationally.
"All of those are decisions I will have to make," Pyle said.
Nielsen graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and police science from Weber State University. He began his career with the University of Utah police force.
During his 33 years with West Valley City, Nielsen served in every rank from patrol officer to chief, Pyle said. Known for his open and straightforward manner, Nielsen oversaw a number of high-profile investigations, including the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell.
Another Utah police chief — Saratoga Springs Police Chief Gary Hicken — will also retire this year, as he has been called to serve as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hicken will be president of the church's Kenya Nairobi Mission. He and his wife, Kathryn, will begin serving in July.
Aaron Rosen, Saratoga Springs police spokesman, said Hicken will likely retire at the end of May and take June off to make preparations. Rosen said standard protocol for the replacement of a police chief involves both an in-house and national search.