In Our Opinion: Salt Lake City and County Should Not Dismiss Winder’s Plan in His Absence

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder announces he will leave his elected position to become the chief of police in Moab during a press conference at the Salt Lake County Sheriff\’s Office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder’s decision to resign and accept the job of police chief in Moab offers both the county and Salt Lake City an opportunity to reflect on where they are in terms of some important issues.

Winder and Police Chief Mike Brown were unable to form a coalition with each other or with other political leaders in the state, county and city to direct resources to the places they are most needed. This inhibited efforts to stop drug trafficking, to fund increased jail space and, perhaps most visibly, to deal with burgeoning problems around the Road Home Shelter on Rio Grande Street.

For these failures, there is plenty of blame to go around.

That said, Winder was one of the few willing to articulate tangible plans to address these issues, despite the political problems they caused. We hope, for instance, that a new sheriff can work closely with Brown and the city’s elected leaders and that together they can give Winder’s 21-point plan for dealing with the Rio Grande situation the careful consideration it deserves.

Unfortunately, city leaders so far have dismissed this plan. Instead, they proposed one that does little more than add lights, restrooms and garbage cans to the area while also redesigning a median in front of the shelter.

That’s hardly a comprehensive or realistic answer to the multifaceted problems afflicting the neighborhood — problems that will persist at least until new shelters open in various parts of the county.

Among other things, Winder’s plan would have established a closely monitored urban campground where the homeless could stay, freeing up more space at the shelter. His contention was that police should not simply keep people from sleeping on sidewalks without providing a safe alternative.

He also proposed closely monitoring the license plates of every car entering the area — an effort that would discourage drug trafficking and other crimes. He would have put police officers full time in the shelter and implemented a plan that discourages people from giving to panhandlers by providing an alternative that ensures the truly needy receive donations.

Even the sheriff admitted the plan wasn’t perfect, but the refusal of other political leaders to even discuss it or provide alternatives was shameful. Originally, city leaders objected, citing the lack of county jail space as the main problem inhibiting enforcement in the area. But they failed to consider it even after Winder announced a plan to open up many more jail beds.

Winder said he hopes his Rio Grande plan will receive more attention once he leaves, acknowledging his involvement may be a political wedge standing in the way. Our concern, however, is that all mention of it will cease once he’s exited his post.

We wish Winder well in his new pursuit. Moab will benefit from his many years of law enforcement experience. County leaders, meanwhile, need to look carefully for a new sheriff who is up to the many challenges of the job.

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