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A Conversation With Moab's New Police Chief

Jim Winder


Recently Jim Winder, Salt Lake County’s long-time sheriff, stepped down to become police chief in Moab. He talked to UPR's Jon Kovash about the tribulations of the department, which still has numerous vacancies to fill.

JON: What kind of thoughts have you had so far about how you shift gears to work in a small town environment versus an urban environment?

WINDER: The issues I’ve encountered, so far, in Moab, I’ll be honest with you, reflect very closely the issues we had in Salt Lake City. Yeah, they’re on a different scale, but the day to day functionality is in large part very similar.

JON: You’re coming into a situation that has had some degree of scandal and controversy.

WINDER: How many  people view the Moab Police Department as problematic, corrupt, whatever term you want to use? That’s a real question. Is it a vast majority of the community or is it a subset? There has to be a real global revision, and this includes things as simplistic as alarm response, traffic accident response, all the way up to use of force reporting. It really covers the whole gamut. I think a comprehensive review and revision has to take place. It’s hard to recruit people to come here because there’s a shortage of housing, the costs, and it’s predominantly a tourist economy here, and so on. But most importantly, you have to ensure that the probationary period, you’re monitoring and ensuring that that individual is a fit in our community. So even if we do hire them, and they don’t fit, we will terminate them if they don’t meet our needs and expectations.

JON: Any thoughts so far on how you can get the people you want in the face of these housing problems?

WINDER: Look for individuals that  love the lifestyle here, and I think we need to promote what the lifestyle is, and more importantly assist individuals as they come into town in finding housing. That’s what occurred with me, people were very gracious and assisted in navigating what is an unusual housing market.

WINDER: It’s very important to hire individuals that don’t come directly out of college, but maybe have been in the workforce for several years, or an individual in a different age group, etcetera. It has to reflect the community, and certainly, females in law enforcement are extremely valuable, and we’re going to do all that we can to ensure that our force reflects, I would hope, the demographic of the world, which is kind of a 50/50 proposition. So if there are any females listening to this, I hope they would apply to the Moab Police Department.

JON: What about body and dash cams?

WINDER: What’s the right time to turn the thing on?  What should be the policy implications if an officer fails to turn it on? These are real questions that I’m still looking at for this department, and I’m sure other agency administrators are wrestling nationwide with.

JON: What’s the status of taser use on the force here?

WINDER: They’re not to be used willy nilly, but boy, I’ve been in situations with young people, armed with knives, and we’ve been able to resolve that with a taser. You know as a police officer, that was not only beneficial to the suspect, but that would have been one of the worst things in my life to ever have to engage in deadly force with a youngster.

JON: Can you tell us a little about the Mental Health Unit. That’s been a big issue a lot in police missteps in dealing with mental health subjects.

WINDER: So in law enforcement, we’ve had to evolve and change, because more and more, for a variety of sociological reasons we are encountering many more people that have very legitimate and significant mental health concerns. I mean that’s just the way it is, and I think every citizen knows that. It’s manifested in the indigent and homeless population and certainly manifested in a lot of other areas. The frequency of autism and a variety of other issues are also prevalent. So officers therefore have to be capable of identifying and addressing these various issues.  And it is complicated. The best resource in my opinion for front line officers is the CIT program, the Crisis Intervention Team training. It’s a curriculum that is provided nation wide, and it at least gives an officer a fundamental understanding of identifying what is a mental health issue rather than an aggression or hostile reaction.


Originally from Wyoming, Jon Kovash has practiced journalism throughout the intermountain west. He was editor of the student paper at Denver’s Metropolitan College and an early editor at the Aspen Daily News. He served as KOTO/Telluride’s news director for fifteen years, during which time he developed and produced Thin Air, an award-winning regional radio news magazine that ran on 20 community stations in the Four Corners states. In Utah his reports have been featured on KUER/SLC and KZMU/Moab. Kovash is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette and plays alto sax in “Moab’s largest garage band."