Eighteen months in, the Taylorsville Police Department continues to evolve and impressJan 06, 2023 10:21AM ● By Carl Fauver
As part of their active community outreach effort, Taylorsville Police Department’s K-9 unit often demonstrates the dogs’ award-winning skills at elementary schools and elsewhere. (facebook.com/taylorsvillepd)
Last July 1, the Taylorsville Police Department reached it’s one-year mark, serving and protecting the city’s 60,000 residents. As of our new year (Jan. 1), it’s 18-months old.
Some residents may not realize this is the second time Taylorsville has had its own stand-alone law enforcement agency. After trying it the first time, elected officials decided it was more prudent to join with the Unified Police Department.
Somewhere in there, the old saying comes to mind: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
In other words, had this second iteration of the Taylorsville Police Department not worked out, the current crop of elected officials would have faced a lot of questions and “I told you sos.”
“There are always a few problems and concerns when you take on something as challenging as starting a police department from scratch,” Mayor Kristie Overson said. “But we felt it was the right move – and I am still convinced it was.”
Of course, the obvious question is, what’s different this time compared to the first time the city created its own police department? The mayor isn’t sure – but she has her theories.
“We now have a (city) council that is very pro-Taylorsville Police,” she explained. “Times change, people change, public officials change, attitudes change. We weren’t certain it would turn out for the best; but we were confident.”
Here then are a few of the key moves the Taylorsville Police Department made in 2022 to continue its successful evolution.
Citizen Advisory Committee
Four men and one woman – all longtime Taylorsville residents – were tabbed by Overson last spring to serve on the city’s new Community Advisory Board. After undergoing several weeks of training, Dan Armstrong, Randy Freestone, John Lefavor, Dean Paynter and Lynette Wendel were all tasked with reviewing uses of force, high-speed chases and internal allegations of police misconduct.
“Choosing the committee members was a difficult decision because we had many very qualified members of our community apply,” the mayor said at the time. “Finalists interviewed with myself and a small panel of others. Then the final decisions were mine. I chose the best of the best; and I’m excited for this advisory board to get together.”
Others on the interview panel included Police Chief Brady Cottam, city Chief Financial Officer (and Assistant City Manager) Scott Harrington and others.
City and police officials long had the goal of seeing the Taylorsville Community Advisory Board up and fully functional by the one-year anniversary of the department’s creation last July. They met that goal, thanks in large part to the training they received, coordinated by Sgt. Jake Hill.
As the TVPD sergeant over internal affairs, Hill is the official liaison between his department and the CAB. His duty with the board began with their training, and has since evolved to him gathering and presenting the appropriate case files to the five members each month for review.
“We trained board members on our use-of-force policies and procedures,” Hill said. “I also took them to our driving range to teach them and demonstrate our vehicle pursuit policies. I have been very impressed with the group. They come from all walks of life. I think they appreciate the trust the mayor has put in them. It seems like they all want to do a good job. They don’t rush through their case reviews. They have respect and pride in wanting to do a good job.”
During their monthly meetings, CAB members review case specifics for every TVPD incident in which a gun or taser is fired, a baton is used or pepper spray is deployed. Their charge is also to review cases involving high-speed vehicle pursuits or whenever a police dog makes contact with a suspect. Additionally, they will scrutinize allegations of officer misconduct.
Former eight-year Taylorsville City Councilman Dan Armstrong was pleased with how his CAB’s first case review meeting went last August.
“The cases we reviewed were all pretty benign, no shootings; the worst was the use of pepper spray,” Armstrong said. “Our officers are really good – real pros. They do so much extensive training. They know when to quit (vehicle) chases. They can call out a police helicopter very quickly if they need to. The first meeting was a very good learning experience for all of us. Our officers are very impressive. I’d hate to be a criminal.”
The lone female on the 5-member CAB – City Planning Commission member Lynette Wendel – also felt well prepared for that first case review meeting.
“Sgt. Hill did such a fabulous job preparing us – and preparing the cases for our review,” she said. “He made sure we had all the information we needed. It was very well organized. It was clear the police department is taking this (board and its duties) very seriously.”
SWAT partnership with WVC
“It was always our plan to enter into a SWAT partnership with another agency from the beginning,” Cottam said last fall. “We had discussions with a number of different police agencies. This is actually coming together a little later than I had anticipated. But, in the end, it felt like partnering with West Valley City was the best fit. I’m glad we were able to reach this agreement.”
A mobile command post…armored vehicles… two types of drones – for flying outside or inside buildings… and lots of other hi-tech law enforcement equipment are all now available to protect Taylorsville residents.
“This partnership is beneficial for both (cities),” West Valley City SWAT Team Commander Lt. Robert Brinton said. “We were having some manpower struggles on our team – losing officers – and we knew this would provide us with some new, experienced people. All of the Taylorsville personnel have previous SWAT experience from several different agencies. I think it will work well.”
Indeed, the six officers Taylorsville has placed on the team have previous SWAT experience with: Salt Lake, Sandy, West Valley, Cottonwood Heights, Unified Police and even Dallas, Texas. There’s also decades of military experience among the Taylorsville personnel, representing the Army, Navy and Marines.
Leading the TVPD group is SWAT Sgt. Jeff Smith, who is in his eleventh year of law enforcement – most of that with West Valley City. He was among the original hires Taylorsville made in forming their new agency.
“Sgt. Smith is one of our young, bright stars,” Cottam said. “He has plenty of SWAT experience and will be a good leader for the team.”
Soon after the TVPD SWAT personnel were identified, they joined with their West Valley City counterparts for a busy week of training in late September.
“We trained for 55 hours over four days,” Smith said. “We were at a training facility in West Valley, a gun range in Tooele County and even in some vacant houses. It was very intensive. Our team will continue to train with West Valley SWAT team members for ten-hour days, every other week.”
Of course, all that training will take these officers from their regular TVPD duties twice a month, meaning there will be overall manpower cost increases. Additionally, outfitting the six Taylorsville team members with special safety equipment and weaponry cost the agency about $70,000.
“I am OK with the expenditure for our SWAT team gear because that equipment lasts pretty well,” Cottam said. “We estimate the annual personnel cost for the team will be about $25,000. At this point, I don’t believe we will need to request additional funding (from the Taylorsville City Council, specifically for the SWAT team). But it will take some time to further evaluate that. The big thing is – West Valley already has the expensive equipment like an armored vehicle. Our startup costs would be at least four times as much if we were starting our own SWAT team without a partner.”
City and police officials are also convinced a part of their success with the community has come through a variety of public outreach events. Last spring, as the agency approached its one-year operational anniversary, it hosted a “Meet the Taylorsville Police Department Open House” at city hall. Later in the year, TVPD participated in the annual “Night Out Against Crime,” coordinated by the city’s Public Safety Committee.
And, perhaps most impressive, the TVPD K-9 unit has gone to elementary schools and other locations to demonstrate their award-winning police dogs.
Before the agency even reached that one-year anniversary, the TVPD K-9 unit placed first in a competition conducted by the Utah Peace Officers Association. The victory came for the dogs’ efforts in search and rescue, detecting narcotics and explosives, overall agility and technical skill.
“We are especially proud of these honors, considering our K-9 unit has only been operating for just shy of a year now,” Cottam said at the time. “The dedication of our K-9 unit is exceptional, and these honors point to that good work.”
Overson added, “A huge congrats to the TVPD K-9 team. Clearly, (Cowboy, Koda and Turbo) and their handlers work well together and have formed strong bonds.”
By first developing such a strong K-9 unit, and then sharing those skills through community demonstrations, officials believe TVPD is strengthening its bond with Taylorsville residents.
“Our police department is still new, still settling in and there’s always a fly in the ointment somewhere,” Overson concluded. “But our chief and his deputies are working hard and doing a great job. There have not been any cost overruns; but we are constantly reviewing (officer) wages, because keeping good people is very competitive. We are doing what we need to do for our residents.”
That’s the report card, 18-months in. One-and-a-half-year-old children are barely walking – that’s why we call them “toddlers.” But in the case of the 18-month-old, award-winning Taylorsville Police Department, it’s fully up and running, winning awards and gaining speed.