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South Valley Journal

Reflecting back on Riverton Police Department’s first four years

Jul 01, 2022 09:41AM ● By Michael J. Jewkes

By Michael J. Jewkes | [email protected]

It has been just under four years since the Riverton City Council approved the resolution declaring its intent to leave the Unified Police Department. Since then, many changes have been made to what used to be the Riverton Precinct of Unified Police Department.

The new Riverton Police Department was created and officially in operation by January of 2019. The change came primarily in response to financial differences in managing bodies, between the taxing district in charge of collecting funding for law enforcement services, the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area, and the Riverton City Council.

In July of 2018, details of UPD’s intention to make changes to the original agreement with member communities surfaced, leading Mayor Trent Staggs to say, “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.”

This statement brought a stark difference in opinion from previous Mayor Bill Applegarth, who released a statement just a year earlier, saying, “The Unified Police Department provides the best law enforcement service Riverton City could have.” Applegarth did, however, hold some doubts regarding the funding aspect of the local police in Riverton.

Applegarth added, “The question becomes whether Riverton City should continue to finance UPD by remaining a part of the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area or should we establish our own Riverton Police Service Area,” putting the idea into the public eye.

Despite Applegarth’s claims to make the issue a public decision, the Riverton Law Enforcement Service Area would have its first meeting before elections could show the issue on the ballot in October of 2017. A resolution was passed, unanimously giving the newly formed RLESA the authority to levy taxes in place of the SLVLESA. The RLESA is comprised of members of the City Council as well as the mayor, who serves as the board’s chair.

As we fast forward to 2022, Riverton’s police has changed in many ways. What once was under the leadership of Precinct Chief Rosie Rivera is now under the command of Chief Don Hutson.

Being sworn in as the Riverton Police Department’s first chief, Hutson has seen his officers become “…more involved in the community.”

Riverton remains one of the lowest criminally active cities in the Salt Lake Valley, leading many to feel that taxes from Riverton were going to fund other cities with higher crime. “A lot of your shared resources are spent in high crime areas,” Hutson told the City Journals.

The new RLESA is a similar taxing service area as SLVLESA, however, instead of encompassing the entire valley, it covers only Riverton City. The goal of a more regional police force is, as Chief Hutson said, “[having]…more dedicated officers…for the same budgeted amount…”

Riverton PD has been able to save Riverton tax dollars in massive ways. “We are saving approximately $3 million to taxpayers in Riverton by leaving SLVLESA,” Hutson said.

While long-term tax dollars have been saved, upfront costs of forming a new police department can be extensive. Original estimates allotted $500,000 for the upfront costs of Riverton PD, on top of routine costs of running and maintaining the department.

Public opinion surrounding the new Riverton Police Department has been positive. Riverton resident Megan Carter says, “I’ve had nothing but good experiences with the Riverton Police Department. They all seem to have pleasant attitudes and pride in protecting and serving the community.”

Last month, Carter’s 12-year-old son fell victim to bike theft. Despite the police and family’s best efforts to recover the stolen Cannondale bike, no one was able to find it. Carter was later amazed to learn that “[Riverton Police] decided to search unclaimed property and see if they could find a similar Cannondale bike and they had!” Officers from the RPD gifted the bike to Carter’s son, who responded by saying, “The kindness and just overall phenomenal job from those officers was very moving!”

Hutson does believe the connection between the police and residents has strengthened over the past four years. With present political landscapes and relationships between the police and the people, this connection comes at an important time.

“I don’t think you can measure those long-term relationships with the community,” Hutson added.