Sheriff tries to fend off critics
Ryan Summerlin September 24, 2010
With the election just more than a month away, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds may be facing more criticism than the two-term incumbent ever has before in his political career.
Edmunds, a Republican, has been taking a lot of heat from his opponent, Francis Democrat Dax Shane.
Shane claims Edmunds has become too intimidating of a lawman after nearly eight years in office. The Democrat criticized the sheriff this week in a mailer sent to news reporters and elected officials in Summit County.
The mailing detailed a program at the Sheriff’s Office through which deputies receive points. The points can count toward employees choosing their shift times or supervisors.
"In law enforcement, that is just unbelievable. Choosing whether it be a day shift or a night shift is huge," Shane said in a telephone interview. "Choosing a supervisor who you work for if you have problem with someone is certainly going to motivate you to go out and issue more traffic-related stops."
But Edmunds said Shane’s criticism is baseless. His performance standards are similar to those used by law-enforcement agencies throughout the state, the sheriff countered.
Shane claims deputies receive points for stopping the most vehicles, issuing the most citations or arresting the most drunken drivers. Shane called the incentives a "quota system."
"I’m definitely hearing from people about over-zealous law enforcement," Shane said. "I’m getting e-mails on a daily basis that talk about stories of over-zealous law enforcement on State Road 224."
The number of traffic stops by deputies along the highway that stretches from Kimball Junction into Park City "has just gotten out of hand," Shane said.
"I’m not saying that I’m soft on DUIs and I’m not saying that I am soft on traffic infractions. I’d like to see the deputies in the neighborhoods more," he said. "If all you’re doing are traffic-related events as a deputy up here, you’re letting your skills go in other areas. I think we need to focus on training deputies to go out and look for larcenies, look for burglaries, look for drugs for example."
Some drivers say they are tired of being stopped for minor offenses, Shane said.
"Two to three miles over the speed limit, following too close, lane-change violations, I think the administration needs to lighten up on that," Shane said. "Even if you are just stopping people and issuing them a warning, it’s still harassment, especially with the quantity and the level they are doing it."
But Edmunds rejects Shane’s claims that deputies are encouraged to target motorists to receive valuable incentives from the department.
"We are not out there forcing the deputies to write citations," Edmunds said in a telephone interview. "That is absolutely not the case."
The guidelines provide performance points for deputies for excelling in several categories.
"You could literally never write a citation as a patrol deputy of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and receive a superior evaluation," Edmunds said. "That’s not likely, but it’s possible."
Deputies have leeway in deciding how they will work to obtain the performance points. Employees receive points for increased training, education and properly interacting with the public.
"They don’t have to write traffic citations," Edmunds said. "We expect them to take proper enforcement action, but they’re given a lot of discretion as to what that might be, maybe it’s a citation, maybe it’s a verbal warning, maybe it’s a written warning."
Edmunds called Shane’s mailer a "red herring."
"It’s a distraction meant to keep the voters away from looking at his record and his lack of experience and lack of credentials," the sheriff said. "It’s perplexing to say the least. Every police department that I know of has some form of what we’re doing, ours just happens to be a little different than some others."
Shane currently works as a police officer in Salt Lake City. Edmunds said Shane is not qualified to hold the position of sheriff because he has not held an administrative position in law enforcement or graduated from college. Edmunds has a master’s degree from the University of Utah.
"I’ve come to expect this every four years. People will muddy the waters and try to attack my record. But as an incumbent you have to expect this kind of stuff," Edmunds said. "It’s good for incumbents to have to defend their performance record. Elections are supposed to be about your record, your performance and your qualifications."
Deputies only use the performance points for obtaining more favorable shifts, supervisors or co-workers, Edmunds said.
"There is no money attached to this whatsoever," he added. "This was something that deputies had a lot of input on."