HERRIMAN — Herriman leaders on Wednesday moved toward cutting ties with the Unified Police Department to grow their own police force instead.
The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to notify Unified police that it will pull out of its contract with the countywide department. There's no deadline on the split, but if the city and Unified can't agree on a breakup plan, Herriman may pull out of the deal by July 1.
Council members said they trust and respect the Unified officers who now keep the city safe, but the return on their investment in the force isn't cutting it. The city estimates it is overpaying for Unified's services to the tune of $2 million per year.
"Financially, we're not getting what we pay for with UPD," said city finance director Alan Rae. "We could have more dedicated officers in the city for less money."
Rae told the council that Unified had covered the cost of 18 officers for the city over the past year, but only 13 were set aside. The difference was filled in by policemen and women working overtime shifts.
The council's decision went against input from several homeowners who said they believe Unified does a good job. The residents questioned the longterm costs and the more limited manpower they said would come with a homegrown department.
Unified leaders and officers also urged the council to reconsider, saying Herriman's departure would throw a wrench in Unified's budget and affect the costs shouldered by other cities in Salt Lake County.
But council members said their longstanding frustration with the price tag and an opaque Unified budgeting process was too great.
"We've been asking questions for years. We haven't been getting answers," from Unified, said council member Jared Henderson. The city has contracted with Unified police for eight years but has covered costs of cars, radios and computers, he said.
Jeff Silvestrini, a member of UPD's Board of Directors, said the decision was "like throwing a hand grenade to the room, with respect to the UPD budget."
Silvestrini, also the mayor of Millcreek, urged Herriman leaders to wait a year to decide, saying such a move affects 11 other jurisdictions.
"We believe you're making a monumental mistake," he said to applause from others at the meeting. But council member said their intention isn't to leave other cities in the lurch.
Council member Nicole Martin said the city's top concerns are public safety and responsible spending. Herriman isn't overpaying to such a degree for parks or its other endeavors, she said.
At the meeting, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera acknowledged shortcomings.
"I did inherit some problems that we have been trying to work on and fix," Rivera said. No matter who pays for officers, she said, keeping Herriman's neighborhoods safe is the priority. "We are ready to help you with your transition."
Randy Ricks, who lives in Herriman, questioned whether a new force could fill open police jobs as departments around the state are struggling to hire new officers.6 comments on this story
Under the proposal, he noted, "We're not paying for people if we're not using them. But what happens if we need them?"
Other residents shared Ricks' concerns about losing vast Unified resources, including SWAT teams, police dog units and trained drug investigators.
"Cities have left and said they could do it cheaper, but it hasn't worked out that way," said Unified Sgt. Duane Jensen, who lives in Sandy but supervises officers in Herriman. He said the workload in the growing suburb is only getting heavier: Three officers he oversees in the afternoons are sometimes so busy that he must call in others.