Randy Watt reflects on his first year as Ogden police chief

Saturday , February 03, 2018 - 5:00 AM2 comments

OGDEN — It has been a little more than a year since Randy Watt took the reins as chief of the Ogden Police Department, and he’s already seen significant changes. 

The department has faced its share of challenges, he said, but its members have handled them well.

Watt retired in 2011 after serving as an Ogden Police officer for 32 years, but Mayor Mike Caldwell brought him back when former Chief Mike Ashment announced his retirement in December 2016. Watt officially started his job as chief on Jan. 4, 2017.

“When I was brought back by the mayor, I was charged with making some changes,” Watt said Thursday in his office. “And change is challenging.”

Watt said he originally wanted to spend his first six months studying the state of the department and how it could be improved. However, he says it took closer to nine months to sort everything out. The result of the analysis yielded a strategic plan, which reorganized the department with a new leadership structure.

Watt said the department has spent the past few months implementing changes in different parts of the department. 

But in the past year, they hit some bumps.

One such issue began shortly before Watt began as chief. The department switched to a new records management system, which created problems, Watt said. The records system does not accurately keep track of the total number of crimes committed in recent years. 

“We’re struggling with the consistency and validity of the data,” he said. “It’s still work in progress.”

Perhaps the largest issue the department faces is retention of officers, an obstacle highlighted in a recent Ogden City Council meeting, where the council unanimously voted to approve pay raises for certain Ogden police officers. The vote to raise officer pay came just after the Salt Lake City Police Department announced it is hiring 50 new officers.

RELATEDOgden boosts police pay 'to slow the bleeding,' compete with other departments

Ogden officers handle a higher number of calls than any other law enforcement agency in the state, Watt said. This, coupled with the variety of these calls, makes Ogden officers well-trained in a short amount of time.

Watt said pay for Ogden officers is not low in general, but officers could make more if they work in the Salt Lake City area. 

If you compare the compensation packages between an Ogden officer and a Salt Lake City officer, over a 30-year period the Salt Lake City officer will make $194,000 more than the Ogden officer, according to Watt. 

“It’s extremely difficult to compete with,” he said. 

Capt. Danielle Croyle, public information officer for Ogden Police, said since January 2015 the department has lost 20 officers to Salt Lake area police agencies. 

Overall officer retention is a larger problem that Ogden has been trying to address. Over the past three years, the department has lost 65 officers, according to Croyle. Currently, there are 144 on staff. Watt said the issue of turnover made it difficult to address other issues within the department.

However, Watt said the department is now moving forward with efforts to cut red tape and make Ogden officer jobs more appealing.

One example of this streamlining is the elimination of a rule that would prevent officers from using their police cars for things like dropping their kids off at school. Another example is the department’s elimination of charging officers for car mileage if they live outside Ogden city limits. 

Watt said the little things add up to make the job more appealing overall. 

The department has also started requiring new learning programs — such as leadership training through the International Academy of Public Safety — in the department’s training curriculum, Watt says. The leadership development course is open to all Ogden City employees. 

Additionally, they’ve begun an in-house “mini-academy,” focused on training that is specific to Ogden. Watt said other police academy curriculums tend to focus on general knowledge of the state. 

The department now offers classes to prepare candidates for the required tests to become an officer. Watt says this has also helped to diversify their pool of prospective officers, which was one of his goals when he became chief. 

Watt said the department has done a better job in the past year reaching out to minority communities and establishing better relationships with local activist groups. 

Watt was recently at the Capitol in Salt Lake City as a part of the Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Committee, a group that advises lawmakers on criminal justice-related bills. 

Contact reporter Jacob Scholl at jscholl@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Scholl.

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