Utah bill promoting sheriffs' power draws grumbling from cities

Dec 21 2013 - 10:12am

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CLINTON - A Davis County lawmaker's proposal to put sheriffs in charge of countywide emergency situations is already raising concerns.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, has a bill filed with the state Legislature that would potentially make county sheriffs the presiding law enforcement entity in a county in times of emergency.   

The bill, entitled Primary Law Enforcement Duties for Sheriffs, is still being drafted but the title alone is already generating some concerns.  

Layton City Attorney Gary Crane, who works closely with the Utah League of Cities and Towns, detailed a general outline of the proposal with some other Davis County state representatives this week in a meeting of city officials, council members and local state representatives. He expressed concern for the city's police department the measure is too overarching and would give sheriffs too much power.

Crane said the league would oppose any measure that made the county sheriff the chief law enforcement officer in every jurisdiction.

"Layton would have a concern about that," Crane said.

Approached about his bill on Tuesday, Ray seemed eager to have a discussion on the topic, even if he expressed some reluctance to move the proposal forward for the 2014 legislative session, which begins Jan. 27. A lawmaker can post a bill file, but choose to pull it back as drafting and specifics of the proposal are being worked out.

Ray said he knows there are turf wars among law enforcement agencies but wondered out loud how residents in Davis County would react to an earthquake and what entity would oversee any public safety response to such an emergency.

The Clinton Republican admitted he hasn't run his proposal by other law enforcement organizations yet, but seemed certain it would find support from the state sheriffs association.

"The idea I am tossing around is how to address emergencies," Ray said. He indicated he is not looking for a fight among law enforcement agencies, as much as a discussion of how countywide disasters would be dealt with.

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