Sheriff reacts to hiring freeze
According to Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds, law enforcement is the last place the county should go to cut personnel. Public safety is the most important service the county can provide, he added.
Summit County Manager Bob Jasper told the County Council on Oct. 16 that he asked staff to freeze the unfilled positions for a planner and two deputies. This comes in the wake of two successful petitions that halted a pair of taxes until they can be placed on the 2014 ballot.
"Conventional wisdom dictates that we don’t have sufficient peace officers anyway," Edmunds said. "And you add all the visitors that come to Summit County into the mix, and instead of increasing our numbers to adequately deal with those visitors and the full-time population, we are actually eroding our personnel and our ability to provide the services."
The industry standard for peace officers per 1,000 full-time residents is 2.5, Edmunds said, but Summit County only has 1.7 peace officers per 1,000 full-time residents.
"We don’t look like a normal community of 40,000 people and we don’t act like it," he said. "The complexity of this county is such that we are probably more analogous to a community of 70,000 or 80,000 people, especially when you take into consideration all the visitors that we have coming here."
The Wasatch-Cache National Forest alone has two million visitors annually, as of numbers reported two or three years ago, Edmunds said. But because of the economy, in recent years more people are going on local camping vacations rather than more expensive alternatives, such as Disneyland or the San Diego Zoo.
"So those numbers have increased dramatically over the last few years, and all the issues we contend with have also gone up," he said. "The forest in Summit County, on any given weekend, looks like a small city. And it has all the corresponding problems of a small city: domestic disputes, child abuse, alcohol violations, you name it. All the things we deal with in portions of the county are now in the forest."
The Sheriff’s Office has already lost two or three deputy positions over the last few years, which, together with the newly frozen positions, is the equivalent of a patrol shift, Edmunds said.
"Although I think we’ve done a very good job of lessening the impact to the community, there is no question that as deputy positions continue to be taken from me, that it’s going to have a profound impact on our ability to provide high-level service," Edmunds said.
"That hasn’t happened yet. We’ve gone to great lengths so that it hasn’t happened. We’re fortunate to have a lot of people who have sucked it up, quality employees that understand that their mission of public safety takes precedence over anything that is going on politically, or any other issues that we contend with around here. They always put the mission first, and they are to be commended for that."
But they can only do so much, he said, and at some point the loss of four or five deputy positions will start to cause some issues. Not only will it impact the community negatively, but it is also taking its toll on the remaining deputies that have to pick up the slack.
"They’ve been asked to do more with less now for five years," Edmunds said. "They’ve seen an erosion of their salaries and their benefits. The reality is that the moral wasn’t what it once was. I think we’ve done some very creative things to get moral where high. We’ve been a great motivator of people here, as an administration. But there’s only so much that can be done."
He acknowledged that it appears the county is now in the situation where cuts will probably have to be made due to the tax appeal, but said other services should be cut first.
"Before you touch one Sheriff’s deputy, you should essentially decimate every other service the county provides, and then come to the Sheriff’s office and start taking the Sheriff’s deputies off the streets," Edmunds said.
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