WEST VALLEY CITY — After months of searching, West Valley City announced Tuesday it will promote one of its own to become the city's new police chief.
Colleen Jacobs, who had served as the department's interim chief since Sept. 8 when Chief Lee Russo announced his retirement, was officially named the city's full-time chief by the City Council Tuesday night in a unanimous vote. She was formerly known as Colleen Nolen but will now use her maiden name following a recent divorce, according to the city.
The city had about 25 candidates apply to be the next chief, said City Manager Wayne Pyle. The three finalists were Jacobs, a local law enforcer and a person from out of state.
When Russo became chief, Pyle said it was best for the city at that time to find an outside candidate to overhaul the department's image and restore public trust. Now that that's been accomplished, he said this time more emphasis was placed on finding a local person who intends to stay in West Valley City for the long run, and will lead the department into the next era of policing.
"Having somebody like Colleen, she knows the troops, she knows the department, she knows the city, she is a local candidate. That puts her that much further ahead of the game. And absolutely I thought it was the best thing to do," Pyle said.
Jacobs has worked her entire 21-year law enforcement career with West Valley City. She has worked in investigations, narcotics, internal affairs and has served as deputy chief. Jacobs is also a Utah native, graduating from Tooele High School and earning a bachelor's degree from Weber State University in criminal justice with a law enforcement emphasis and a minor in family studies.
Pyle recalled going on a ride-along with her in 1998 when she was a new officer.
"I remember being impressed even back then how great an officer, how skilled and competent she was," he said Tuesday.
Jacobs called her appointment an "honor and privilege."
"My priorities moving into this are to maintain the community relations that Chief Russo had built for us and to build on that. Having community outreach and finding what it is that we need to do to have that open line of communication with our citizens," she said.
While finding new avenues of community outreach is one of her priorities, Jacobs said she also looks forward to focusing on the department internally and developing the careers of young officers. She noted that the police department is currently very young overall. She wants to use that youth to find fresh approaches to law enforcement in an era where police recruitment is down across the nation.
With her appointment, Jacobs became West Valley City's first woman to be appointed as full-time police chief, and currently the state's only female police chief. Sheriffs are elected in Utah and last year, Rosie Rivera became the first woman elected as sheriff of Salt Lake County.
Jacobs, however, does not believe her gender had anything to do with her appointment.Comment on this story
"I've been in a leadership role with West Valley for 15 years. So, I believe even though this is a male-dominated profession, you truly rise and fall on your merits. As I've risen through the ranks and been given more leadership opportunities, I really don't think it had anything to do with my gender," she said.
Still, she said she appreciates the fact that she is currently Utah's only female chief, which she said is part of growing trend of more women in leadership positions in law enforcement.
"It's really an honor and a privilege and I'm proud to be a part of that. And hopefully I'm able to set a good example for young officers, other supervisors, and hopefully other women who are looking to get into law enforcement to know that there is no glass ceiling."