SALT LAKE CITY — The two candidates vying to become Salt Lake County sheriff have a lot in common.
Both Justin Hoyal and Rosie Rivera were the faces of the department for many years, acting as the sheriff's public information officer. Hoyal was chief deputy under former Sheriff Jim Winder. Rivera became the Unified Police Department's first female chief when she became head of the department's Riverton precinct while Winder was in office.
Hoyal was on the SWAT team. Rivera was the first female officer in the Metro Gang Unit. Hoyal started with the sheriff's office in 1996. Rivera started in 1993. Both have spent their entire careers with the department and risen through the ranks.
And when it comes to the future of the Unified Police Department and the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, there isn't a lot of disagreement between the candidates on what they believe are the main challenges the departments face in the immediate future.
But while Rivera and Hoyal have a lot of similarities, each believes their plan is the one that will take the department to the next level.
Rivera, a Democrat, was sworn in as sheriff a little over a year ago to fill the remainder of Winder's term after he left to become Moab's police chief.
"I want to continue because I’ve had such a short amount of time to really be able to get in deep and change the direction of the Unified Police Department and the sheriff’s office,” she said.
Hoyal, the Republican candidate, said he will bring problem-solving through partnerships if elected.
"I think what I ultimately bring to the table is strong leadership abilities. The experiences that I’ve had over the years are what make me uniquely qualified to bring about strong relationships to the table. I can bring people to the table to try and fix these things."
Both candidates agree one of the biggest issues the next sheriff will face is the ongoing crisis over jail beds and a Salt Lake County Jail that is almost always at capacity. Rivera calls it one of the department's biggest priorities.
"We can’t just keep booking people in. We have to have other alternatives,” she said.
Rivera notes that she was able to get funding in July to open 184 beds at the mothballed Oxbow Jail and hopes to secure funding to open the remaining 184 beds. But simply throwing people in jail won't solve the problem, she said. There needs to be more programs offered to people suffering from drug addiction and mental health issues. Those people, she said, need a place to go other than jail.
Hoyal agreed. "We have got to look at getting more beds," he said. One thing he hears a lot from other officers, he said, are pleas to not go back to the policy of closing the jail and refusing to accept people arrested for minor crimes, such as what happened in 2017 under Winder.
"Do not go back to that," Hoyal said he hears a lot.
But he also agrees that partnerships with the community, drug treatment centers and mental health providers need to be strengthened.
"I really think that with the relationships I’ve built over the years, the experiences that I’ve had working throughout my career, I can bring the right people to the table to get these discussions going,” he said.
Rather than being tough on crime, Hoyal said the county needs to be smart on crime to stop the jail's revolving door.
"We need to help those who can’t help themselves. We need to help those who are struggling with drug abuse, mental health issues. We need to be able to help those people,” he said.
Another component in fixing problems at the jail is treating employees fairly and giving corrections officers incentives to stay, Rivera said, adding that for years, corrections officers have been forced to work mandatory overtime shifts every day.
"They’re tired of working. And I don’t blame them. But now we’re addressing it. And it should have been, probably, addressed a long time ago.”
Rivera said her budget proposal in November will ask for "a few million" to give officers long overdue pay raises. Many officers, after they are hired by the jail, leave for much higher paying jobs at places like the Salt Lake City Police Department, Rivera said.
Furthermore, Rivera called jail staffing a safety issue. It doesn't do any good to add jail beds if there aren't enough officers to watch them.
Hoyal also said he plans to address staffing issues, noting there are currently 110 vacancies on the jail staff.
Possibly the biggest point of contention between the two candidates is the issue of the Unified Police Department's governing board and cities that are mulling whether to leave Unified and create their own departments.
In September, Herriman cut ties with the Unified Police Department. Earlier this month, Riverton took steps to form its own department next year.
Hoyal believes the department's relations with other cities has been damaged.
"I am really sad to see the direction the Unified Police Department is going in,” he said.
Hoyal blames a "lack of transparency, communication and responsiveness" for the cities wanting to leave Unified.
"If you’re not explaining it and working well with your partners, then it can create problems,” he said.
But Rivera said she was only sheriff for two months when Herriman announced it was leaving and said there had already been rumblings of the city's decision before she became sheriff. She said Herriman even had its new patch and badge created before formally announcing it was leaving. Since becoming sheriff, Rivera said she has addressed the problems raised by Riverton and Herriman.
"We are fixing what they complained about. They complained about transparency, efficiency as far as the cost goes," she said.
Rivera said she fired the Unified police board's chief financial officer for not being open or responsive to Herriman and Riverton's questions about the budget.
Both Hoyal and Rivera said they believe in the Unified model of policing.
"The consolidation of services is so important. It helps public safety. It’s more cost-effective,” Rivera said.
The sheriff said she knows some cities feel like they're paying a lot of money for not a lot of services. But she said when those cities need specialized units to respond — like the homicide unit — they'll get their money's worth.
"Unified is a top department in this county. It costs to be part of Unified. It’s like this insurance,” she said, noting that some cities might not have as many murders as others, but when a major crime happens, "one event could be devastating to a small department."
Furthermore, Rivera said she has been able to fix the relationships with other law enforcement agencies that were fractured during Winder's final months as sheriff.
"There was so much bad blood between (other county) sheriffs and Sheriff Winder that it was tough. We’ve mended that relationship," she said.
What's the difference?
With the candidates being so similar in their visions for the department, one might ask what's the difference between the two?
Rivera believes voting for Hoyal would be like voting for former Sheriff Winder, who has endorsed Hoyal.
"I think the difference is, I have a new set of eyes," she said. "Our communities are so diverse right now, our law enforcement needs to be diverse. I have been in leadership positions for 17 years. I know how to do budgets. Being a young, teenage mom, I learned early on how important a budget it, how there has to be checks and balances. And I’ve used that experience from the time I was 15 years old.
"I think the biggest thing is my vision is much different. I like to empower people. I like to have good people in leadership positions to where they are empowered to take the department with my vision,” she said.
Rivera points to her restructuring of Unified's command staff and appointing Jason Mazuran as chief of police (Rivera's official title is CEO of Unified police).
"Leadership is key. If you don’t have good leadership in place, you can’t make the changes that need to be made,” she said. "We are moving so progressively this last year."
Rather than micromanaging every aspect of the department, Rivera said she has empowered people to carry out her vision by making independent decisions.
While Rivera said she wouldn't be where she is today without Winder, she believes the sheriff's office cannot go back to that style of management.
"That’s not working. We need to go a different path to make sure it works and it sustains for a very long time,” she said.
Hoyal disagrees that voting for him would be like a voting for Winder.2 comments on this story
"I do have my own vision," he said. "I am the candidate who will move Salt Lake County forward working with community leaders to build real, long-term solutions to public safety issues."
Hoyal said the reason he wants to be sheriff is the same reason he became a police officer: to make a difference. He believes the department needs to highlight the good interaction it has with the community.
And he believes something has to be done to make being a police officer an attractive profession for the next generation.
"You have to have partners to solve problems," Hoyal said. "I can bring people to together to solve problems."