Summit County deputy trades law enforcement for sailing
Paul Smith’s career in law enforcement started somewhat randomly more than 20 years ago when he decided it was time for a change.
Smith was working in construction in the mid-’90s, but the ebb and flow of the business wasn’t conducive to raising a young family. He needed a more consistent, year-round job with benefits.
“I needed to pick a career. I was like 33,” he said. “Law enforcement just fit. You are dealing with people and on the move a lot. It’s also a good feeling when you can take a real bad person off the streets.”
Smith relished the day-to-day life of a deputy, where he was allowed to work closely with the community and reduce crime throughout the county. He felt like law enforcement picked him as much as he picked it.
“It just fit my lifestyle,” he said.
Smith, a court officer, recently completed his final shift with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office at the 3rd District Court in Summit County, completing 22 years of service.
And he’s ready for a new challenge, trading in law enforcement for sailing, he said.
Smith is in the process of selling his condominium in the Snyderville Basin and plans to sail along the East Coast, eventually reaching the Bahamas.
“I’ve truly been blessed with the way things have all worked out for me,” he said. “I couldn’t foresee where I would end up. But, it is kind of what I had hoped for.”
Good days and bad days
Smith went to the police academy and entered law enforcement in 1996, spending time at a couple places, including the Kamas Police Department, before joining the Summit County Sheriff’s Office in August of 1999.
“It seemed like a good place for me,” he said. “I was starting a new career that late in life and it was exciting.”
Smith spent 10 years on patrol. It brought him some of the highest and lowest moments of his career.
In 2003, Smith responded to a domestic violence situation between a woman and her ex-husband. The couple was embattled in a bitter divorce when the woman showed up with her boyfriend at her ex-husband’s home and shot him, he said.
“They threw him in the car, but he was still fighting for his life,” he said. “Me and one other officer located them and gun shots were going off. Her life was ended in the process.”
Smith received a medal of valor from the National Sheriff’s Association and an award from Summit County for his role in responding to the incident. He said he kept in touch with the victim for several years afterward.
But, Smith struggled in the aftermath with taking someone’s life.
“It was not fun,” he said. “Summit County did their best to take care of me during that time.”
Smith credits his recovery to conversations with a psychologist who was a former Vietnam veteran.
“He said, ‘Sometimes it just has to happen. This person is killing another person and you have to stop that action,’” he said. “Just words from him helped me get through it. But, I’ll keep most of those to myself.”
For the last 10 years of his career, Smith spent his time in court services, providing building security and transporting inmates for court appearances. His time there wasn’t filled with as many stories or encounters, but it was satisfying work for Smith. It gave him a regular schedule.
About a year ago, Smith bought a Blue Otter 40-foot cruiser in Connecticut and sailed it to Norfolk, Virginia. He named it “Elusive.” The plan was for Smith to retire in December of 2017. But, his daughter was getting married the following month and his mother’s health was failing as she turned 93, so he decided to wait one more year.
Smith said he’s loved sailing since 1973, when he and his father would take their boat out on the Great Salt Lake. He’s spent his spare time restoring old sail boats in the hopes that one day he would get to take one out on the ocean.
“Around 2001 I said to my wife at the time — I’m divorced now — ‘Why don’t we plan on retiring and going sailing for a while,” he said. “That has been in my sights for 15 years now and has led up to this.”
Smith is just waiting to finalize the sale of his condominium before he packs up his belongings and heads east.
He wants to spend the winter around the Florida Keys and Bahamas, potentially going as far as the Turks and Caicos Islands. When hurricane season hits, he figures he’ll head north and spend time along the northern part of the East Coast. He said his girlfriend won’t likely join him until he is in Florida, so he will be sailing alone until then. Smith intends to document his travels on YouTube and Instagram.
“At that point I will have been out for a year,” he said. “Then I will decide what to do. The ultimate dream right now is to eventually sail the South Pacific.”
Beyond his preliminary plans, though, the trip is open ended. He expects friends and family to join him on the boat periodically, but intends to spend most of the time on his own.
Smith said he’s loved Park City and considers it a “wonderful place.” But, he’s ready for a change.
“I’m kind of sad to leave the mountains,” he said. “But, it’s time for the ocean.”
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