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South Valley Journal

Riverton leaders declare intent to leave Unified Police Department

Aug 01, 2018 10:14AM ● By Jana Klopsch

Riverton officials are pleased with the service of their UPD officers, but they have some reservations about the organization’s administration. (Riverton City Communications)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

In an emergency meeting on July 19, the Riverton City Council unanimously declared the city’s intent to leave the Unified Police Department at the end of 12 months, though they did so with the understanding that this decision may change if substantial differences between the UPD and the city can be resolved. 

“Let me be clear, we have the utmost confidence in and respect for the UPD officers who serve our city so well,” said Mayor Trent Staggs. “Our concerns do not lie with service received from local officers but with the administrative and governance levels of UPD.”

The driving force behind this dramatic gesture came July 18, when city officials finally received information about an important decision that would be made at a UPD Board of Directors meeting the next day. This decision would make changes to an agreement between the UPD and its member communities, and yet nobody was told about it until the last minute—when it was almost too late to do anything about it. 

“It made me really nervous to know that the UPD Board would be considering such substantial changes to our agreement during a time when we are actively trying to resolve some very important concerns,” said Staggs. “We must be able to work out these concerns if we stay with UPD." 

Staggs said this "last-minute reveal" of critical information is just one of many instances in which the UPD Board has been needlessly opaque. 

"During my time on the board, I have seen also others," he said . "I ask for information but either get no answer or partial answers." 

The threat of Riverton’s withdrawal sent a clear message of disapproval to the UPD Board, which ultimately tabled the proposed changes to the contract. City officials intend to work with UPD in the months ahead to see whether there may be a path to an agreement to stay. 

"I truly don’t believe we would have been able to do that if we didn’t signal our intent to leave before the Board adopted changes to the agreement, boxing us in to a potentially bad deal for our taxpayers," said Staggs. 

The proposed changes would see the assets and resources the city has invested in the UPD over the years distributed disproportionately across the service area. Taxpayers would not receive the bang for their buck they reasonably should.

The organization's financial accountability leaves something to be desired, according to Staggs.

"We're billed at the top end for each officer allocation, yet each officer in our precinct is not receiving top end pay,” he said. “The differential should go back to our own fund balance or reduce our billed amount to the organization. But that doesn’t happen.” 

The same goes for other unused precinct-specific budgeted money; but instead of returning to Riverton, the unused funds get absorbed by the service area. 

In fact, Staggs said county officials seem to consistently put their own interests above those of the member cities it claims to serve. 

"Contracts and monetary benefits too often go directly to the county when other vendors could provide a service less expensively," said Mayor Staggs. 

City officials realize this topic deserves much public discourse and education. The council will provide opportunities in the weeks ahead to ensure Riverton residents can become educated, ask questions and express their thoughts to elected officials. 

"I would hope that at the end of the day we can come to some resolution that would be positive for all of us — for the community and for UPD," said Councilmember Tish Buroker.