Talks of combining the North Park and Smithfield police agencies have resurfaced this week with a tone that not only makes it feel plausible but also desirable to police officers and the public they are sworn to protect.
Mayors in North Logan, Hyde Park and Smithfield started to discuss the possibilities this week, and while Hyde Park has given approval to research the matter, it will be two more weeks before Smithfield and North Logan can do the same.
“We had a meeting (Tuesday) afternoon — all three mayors and the two chiefs,” said Hyde Park Mayor Sharidean Flint. “We talked about it and there are a lot of details that have to be worked out, so we’re kind of exploring that option but it seems like an exciting possibility.”
The conversation was apparently sparked by the recent news that North Park Police Chief Jeff Simmons will be returning to the Logan City Police Department after just three and a half months at the head of the smaller department.
Simmons, who is highly apologetic about leaving so soon, said it actually provides the perfect opportunity for considering a merger because rather than having two chiefs jockeying for one position, he will be stepping out, paving the way for Smithfield Police Chief Travis Allen to head a newly created agency, if that is a decision the city councils make.
“It’s all very exploratory,” Simmons told the Hyde Park City Council on Wednesday. “We don’t know — it may not work, and if it doesn’t work we’ll soldier on. And if it does, maybe it is beneficial to everyone.”
According to the conversation in the Hyde Park City Council chambers Wednesday evening, there are two key factors at play — the ongoing struggle for police administrators to recruit and maintain a police force with limited resources, and what Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen calls “a retirement storm” within the Logan City Police Department.
Simmons, formerly an LCPD lieutenant, left the police department at the end of March to take the chief’s position at the North Park Police Department, a move that was quickly followed by the retirement of then-Sgt. Louise Speth.
Then, Lt. Rod Peterson retired at the end of May, and Capt. Tyson Budge followed suit with his July 1 retirement.
Jensen said on Thursday that the retirement of four high-ranking officers all at once has a domino effect within the department, and it has been a significant endeavor to fill not only those four vacancies but also the openings that were created as a result.
During that process, Jensen said, he moved to reinstate the assistant police chief position that was never filled after former assistant police chief Jeff Curtis resigned in 2014 — a position that was offered to Simmons.
“He is an outstanding officer, person and professional,” Jensen said.
With Simmons’ return to Logan, the North Logan and Hyde Park city councils could make a fourth attempt to fill that position again, and that might still happen, but for now the intent is to explore the idea of merging the two police departments.
This discussion includes the rudimentary process of identifying the pros and cons. The most obvious benefit of merging two small departments is creating one larger department, giving each of the three communities a better shot at recruiting and maintaining police officers.
“I feel that with bigger departments, you create more credibility, you create more room for (career) movement … I think that is going to help draw people in and keep people there,” Allen said. “A lot of the fight that I have been fighting over the years is that in a 10-man department, people just don’t feel like they’re going to go anywhere.”
Allen said his department currently has 10 sworn officers — including himself, two sergeants, one detective — and six patrol officers who would have to wait as much as five years to advance.
“Everybody aspires to do better. That is just what we do, and I love to give people the opportunity to advance through the ranks and promote,” he said. “For a lot of them, it’s not pay … a lot of them, it is just advancement in their careers. I have been really lucky enough to do that in a small agency, but not a lot of people get that opportunity.”
Another potential positive in the idea of merging departments is that the Smithfield and North Park Police Departments are already working together on a daily basis.
“Both agencies are backing each other a lot of the time,” Allen said. “We work with them every day, our officers know each other very well, we know how to interact with one another, and I believe we have a really good working relationship with them,” Allen said.
Hyde Park City Council Member Bret Randall, who is employed at the Logan City Police Department, said he fully supports the unification of Smithfield and North Park Police Departments.
“I have been an advocate of this for many years,” Randall said. “Anybody that knows me knows my position or thoughts on unifying Smithfield and North Park, with the idea that as other communities on the north grow, we would be an alternative to contracting with the sheriff’s department and giving those cities the same autonomy and some say in their police.”
Many small cities and towns in Cache Valley choose to pay for additional dedicated patrol, provided under contract by the Cache County Sheriff’s Office, as a middle ground between general patrol by sheriff deputies and creating their own police departments.
Randall, a longtime LCPD officer, said he was in no way disparaging the services provided by the sheriff at all.
“They do a fine job in the cities that they contract with, otherwise they wouldn’t have those contracts,” he said.
Thus far, the Hyde Park council has agreed to move ahead with additional research and discussion. North Logan’s City Council will hear the matter next week, and the Smithfield City Council will consider the possibilities during its next meeting on July 30.
If all parties agree to giving the matter further thought, that will include a closer look at budgets and the potential outcomes for the North Park Police Department building on 2500 North. The building was built in 2013 and is not encumbered by debt, Flint said.
A preliminary budget analysis shows a possible savings of about $70,000.
“If we do this, I want to do this right … I didn’t want to be slashing positions and budgets because in a year from now I would be back in front of you saying I need $150,000 because we are short three people,” Allen said. “I know cost savings are nice. We pretty much broke even, which I thought was a win. I just didn’t want to lowball anything and make it so appealing that you couldn’t pass it up.”