Salt Lake County Sheriff Talks About Possible New Job, Rocky Relationship with City Officials

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder confirms he’s discussed police chief job with Moab, but won’t go beyond that. He also says he’s not on speaking terms with Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski or Police Chief Mike Brown.

Members of the Moab City Council didn’t respond to requests for comment about the police chief search, which has lasted more than six months. KUTV reported last week that Winder was a candidate for the job, citing a former Salt Lake County undersheriff and election challenger, Beau Babka.

Winder’s possible consideration of the job comes amid communication breakdowns between Salt Lake city and county’s leaders, which he said has harmed ongoing homelessness and jail-reform efforts.

He said he’s not on speaking terms with Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, a former top administrative assistant to Winder, but he didn’t elaborate. After not speaking with Police Chief Mike Brown, Winder said he has begun trying to improve their relationship.

Matthew Rojas, Biskupski’s spokesman, said the mayor wasn’t available to speak about Winder’s disclosure of the communication cutoff.

A breakdown between Winder and Brown had come to light in recent months, after Brown said one of Winder’s policies — restricting the crowded jail to alleged perpetrators of more-serious offenses — was putting his officers in jeopardy. One of Brown’s officers told KSL in February that people could steal a car, assault a police officer or someone else and they wouldn’t be booked into jail. Brown told the station that the jail refused to take in 4 of 10 suspects Salt Lake City police arrested.

The chief has since said that not being able to take criminals to jail is the “No. 1 issue” for many of his officers.

Brown didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday. In a recent interview, he said the policy had made the relationship with Winder “tense,” but that the two were fine.

“This is a difficult issue, and he’s got some issues and concerns with the jail; we’ve got some issues with the Rio Grande, Pioneer Park area,” Brown said. “But make no mistake, this is a symbiotic relationship. We’ve got to come together to make this work for everybody.”

“To say that we are in a collaborative or communicative or even a congenial state is simply — I would tell you that is not accurate,” Winder said. “And it’s not right.”

During the questioning about Moab’s search for a chief, Winder offered an analogy.

“At the end of the day, you have to know when you’re pushing against a rock. If you roll it, I’ll push all day long. Pushing against an immovable object is Sisyphean,” Winder said, referring to the mythical Greek character Sisyphus, who was doomed to perpetually roll a heavy rock uphill.

Winder recently has tried jump-starting an effort to use state and county money to contract with other jails that would host Salt Lake County inmates. If the policy frees up space in the jail, he said, he’d be able to phase out the booking restriction.

A long-term solution, he said, would come if county residents approved a tax increase to expand the jail and pay to staff the Oxbow jail, which would open space for about 300 beds and address a long-term underfunding of the jail system.

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