SALT LAKE CITY — The Unified Police Department board made up of elected officials from the areas it serves should have the ability to appoint and remove its chief operating officer, according to a new state audit.
But Unified police officials say in a response to the report that the elected Salt Lake County sheriff is the department's CEO under state law.
Unless the law is changed, the board does not have the discretion to change the provision in the interlocal agreement that mandates that the sheriff serve as the CEO, Sheriff Rosie Rivera and Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, the board chairman, wrote in a response to the audit.
They say the Unified board supports legislation to remove that requirement for law enforcement interlocal agreements, leaving the choice to the board.
The Utah State Auditor's Office looked at Unified police operations, reporting and compliance for the period of August 2015 to August 2017. The department provided law enforcement services for Salt Lake County, Taylorsville, Copperton, White City, Holladay, Herriman, Emigration, Kearns, Magna, Midvale, Millcreek and Riverton during that time.
State Auditor John Dougall said while the law regarding the CEO is vague, the state doesn't believe the board's hands are as tied as it thinks. The board could appoint the sheriff as CEO or as a board member, he said.
"From our perspective, the sheriff may be a great CEO for the district and we think the board should have that option. They just need to make sure it's the board's option so that the board can have appropriate oversight of the district," Dougall said.
If the law were changed and the agreement amended, the board would have the option to choose the sheriff or another person as CEO, he said.
Dougall said the audit isn't aimed at any specific people at Unified police's governing structure.
According to the audit, the board and sheriff should find ways for management to be "fully accountable" to the cities the department serves and to voters.
Auditors say that unless a board policy is approved by a two-thirds majority, the CEO may veto it. They said that authority is typically reserved for one branch of government as a check against another branch, but in this case the board has no power to provide a check on the CEO or sheriff.
"We fail to see why the CEO should have veto power over the board," auditors wrote.
In the eight years since its creation, a sheriff has never vetoed a board decision, Rivera and Silvestrini wrote. They said it's not an issue because the board can vote to override a veto.
The Unified police board also disputes that it has no control over the sheriff. Though it can't fire the sheriff or set the job's salary, it controls the department's budget. The board also participates in selecting and hiring chiefs and deputy chiefs for Unified police precincts.
Auditors also noted that all registered voters in Salt Lake County may vote for the sheriff and that less than half of voters live within Unified police jurisdiction.
"Therefore, the voters served by UPD are unable to hold the CEO accountable for UPD’s operations through the election process," according to the audit.
The audit also found that Unified police was not posting officers' names, genders and salaries — undercover officers are exempt — on the state's public finance website as required by law. Former Sheriff Jim Winder declined to disclose the information because he believed it could jeopardize their safety.1 comment on this story
"It appears the former CEO likely sought, but did not obtain, proper legal counsel regarding the nondisclosure from the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office," according to the audit.
Rivera and Silvestrini say in their response that the former administration considered all officers at risk if their names and genders were made public.
"UPD agrees that this is likely an overbroad reading of this provision of the code," they wrote.
The department said it agrees that the information for officers who are not working undercover or in investigations or likely to in the future, should be disclosed, and that it would do so soon.