State Department of Public Safety headquarters in Taylorsville welcomes new commissioner
Dec 03, 2018 03:16PM
● By Carl Fauver
New Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson has come full circle, returning to the same Taylorsville site where he attended the police officer training academy a generation ago. (Utah Department of Public Safety)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
One of his earliest memories as a young boy growing up in Delta, Utah, is of a “different sounding” telephone ring. New Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Jess Anderson said that “funny” ring was possibly the first thing to inspire him to dedicate his life to public service and emergency response.
“My dad served for several years on the volunteer fire department in Delta,” Anderson said. “This was before cell phones and pagers. Back then, they hooked up our phone so it had a different ring when it was a fire call. So, I associate that distinctive ring with my dad hurrying to the phone and then racing off to fight fires. I guess that is the first thing that taught me how critical it is for people to be willing to act quickly in an emergency to help others.”
Last summer, when 31-year law enforcement professional Keith Squires tendered his resignation as DPS commissioner, Gov. Gary Herbert also acted quickly in tabbing Anderson to assume the post.
“Jess Anderson is a respected leader in our law enforcement community, and I have immense trust and faith in him,” Herbert said. “I look forward to working with him, and I believe he will make wise decisions when it comes to public safety.”
For Anderson, the move to the state Public Safety Department headquarters in Taylorsville (4501 South 2700 Wesst) is a kind of “coming home” in his law enforcement career.
“I was attending Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) back in 1999 when I knew I wanted to pursue a law enforcement career,” Anderson said. “So, I decided to start in on my police academy training. I did not have a job yet, so I had to self-fund it. Back then, the academy was held out of this same (Taylorsville DPS headquarters) building.
“I am familiar with this area,” Anderson said. “I remember jogging the streets around here while attending the academy. So, coming back here feels a little like home. It’s a great place. People are so friendly. So many of them have dropped off goodies or just stopped by to say ‘hi.’ It feels a little like coming home.”
The Police Officer Standards and Practice (POST) academy has since moved to Sandy. Anderson said he has observed much bigger changes in Utah law enforcement over those past 19 years as well.
“We used to have hundreds of people show up for officer candidate testing — many, many more than we could ever hire,” Anderson said. “It was very competitive to become a police officer. But now, due to changes in retirement benefits and some of the negative police coverage in the media, we often don’t even get enough people testing for the number of positions we have available.”
However, despite that trend, Anderson also added, the number of Utah Highway Patrol troopers has grown by more than 10 percent in just the past year, from 425 to 475.
“We have hired 103 new troopers this year alone,” he said. “About half of those were due to attrition, while the other half are new positions.”
Nearly all of that growth, Anderson said, is due to the UHP’s ongoing assistance in downtown Salt Lake policing as a part of Operation Rio Grande.
“I was a [Utah Highway Patrol] major and assistant superintendent when the governor asked us to assist Salt Lake Police (August 2017) with Operation Rio Grande,” Anderson said. “We assigned 84 UHP troopers to assist in cleaning up the area for the first three weeks. We still maintain 50 to 55 officers there each week. Six to eight troopers are visible in the area at any given time.”
And Anderson said it has worked.
“It’s a complete night and day difference now,” he said. “You no longer see drug needles strewn around on the ground. People are starting to take their families back into the area. It has been largely successful, and we are committed to keeping lawlessness out of that area.”
As DPS commissioner, Anderson oversees the UHP, State Bureau of Investigation, State Crime Lab, Statewide Information and Analysis Center, Bureau of Criminal Identification, State Fire Marshal’s Office, Division of Emergency Management, Peace Officer Standards and Training, Driver License Division and Highway Safety Division. Utah DPS provides statewide public safety services and employs more than 1,500 employees.
The 1994 Delta High School graduate earned a bachelor’s degree a few years after being hired by the Utah Highway Patrol in February 2000. Anderson also earned a master’s degree at Weber State University two years ago.
Anderson and his wife have three girls and two boys, ages 5 to 18, and make their home in Eagle Mountain.
“I am so grateful for the support our Department of Public Safety receives,” Anderson said. “The legislature and local governments are very positive to work with. I have not come across the anti-police sentiments we sometimes see in other parts of the country. I credit that to the good people of Utah and the values we live by. Taking this job is the honor of a lifetime.”