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Taylorsville Journal

City council votes unanimously to leave the Unified Police Department in 11 months

Jul 27, 2020 01:39PM ● By Carl Fauver

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

“No taxation without representation.”

That familiar refrain, of course, launched the Revolutionary War and motivates an on-going drive back east to make Washington D.C. our 51st state. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why the Taylorsville City Council has voted unanimously to jump off what appears, more and more, to perhaps be a sinking ship—the Unified Police Department.

“The four cities served by UPD (Holladay, Midvale, Millcreek and Taylorsville) represent 68% of the department’s budget and about the same percentage of total residents served by the agency, but those cities only have 33% of the votes on the UPD board of directors,” Taylorsville City Attorney Tracy Cowdell said in a recent presentation to the city council. “This is not fair. Our citizens have a disproportional representation on the [UPD] board.”

Soon after explanations from Cowdell and City Manager John Taylor—clearly meant more for the residents and attendant media than for elected officials—the Taylorsville City Council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Unified Police Department, notifying department personnel of the city’s intent to discontinue contracting for their services, as of June 30, 2021.

If Taylorsville City does indeed follow through with its plan, this will mark the second time the community has had its own, independent police department. The city’s previous stand-alone law enforcement agency was disbanded in 2012 when Taylorsville began contracting with UPD.

However, city council Vice Chairman Brad Christopherson said the Taylorsville–UPD relationship could still be salvaged if the police agency is willing to make what the council considers to be fair and logical changes. 

“If there was an actual effort to work toward a [management and budgeting] compromise, I would consider changing my vote [to leave UPD],” Christopherson told his fellow council members. “I think UPD is a fantastic organization, but the economies of scale to make it go have been lost. And there has been a flat-out refusal by UPD administration to address this.”

Similar city departures from UPD by Herriman in 2018 and Riverton in 2019 have had a big impact on those economies of scale. In the just-finalized FY2021 Taylorsville City budget, council members approved payment of a half-million dollar fee hike to Unified Police. The cost increased from $10.1 million to $10.6 million, with no measurable improvement to services.

“Because of financial shortfalls due to COVID-19, we just approved a city budget that had cuts in every single department—except police,” Christopherson said. “Meanwhile, UPD came up with a budget that showed decreased costs to the county but increased costs to the four contract cities. That is a stunning, mouth-agape shock to me.”  

Prior to the police budget talk at the meeting, several city council members expressed their appreciation to UPD for the service it provides in Taylorsville. Council Chairwoman Meredith Harker led the audience in a standing ovation for the agency.

“Law enforcement is our number one priority – keeping our citizens safe,” she said. “This (decision to leave UPD) has been a long, thought out process. We have looked at every issue, every dollar. Hopefully, the public can see this is a big issue and we have given it much thought.”

Councilman Dan Armstrong added, “It seems the county has gotten a sweet deal on [the UPD member city’s] backs. With them having two-thirds of the vote, [the county] has no incentive to see it our way.” 

During a brief public comment period, one Taylorsville resident appeared at the council podium to ask, “Where is UPD leadership tonight? I don’t see any UPD administrators at our meeting to answer questions. I ask you [the council] to support the resolution to start the clock to create our own department.”

Indeed, the clock is now running, with no indication so far from the county that it will consider UPD management grievances from Taylorsville elected officials in an attempt to keep the city in the policing district.

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