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U.of U. program helps train new police leaders
Law enforcement » Retirements and turnover saps commander ranks.

By Brian Maffly and Nate Carlisle

Law officers must exercise discretion and judgment in ways that balance the public's safety with their own, and that raises complex issues for commanders.

But officer turnover and an anticipated wave of retirements could deplete the ranks of management material.

So the University of Utah has launched a program to train officers in key management issues, some of which are unique to police work. Mike Fernandez, one of Murray's 10 police sergeants, was part of the first class that met at the U. last week.

"Some of these are life-and-death calls. As a supervisor you have to keep in mind that these officers have to think on their feet. You are in charge of people who are trained to be in charge," said Fernandez, who has served with Murray for 15 years and a dozen more as a military police officer and jailer before that.

"For a law enforcement leader, there are unique challenges because of the expectations for an officer. If you get caught drunk driving, you would lose your job because of the higher standards we're held to."

State projections estimate the need for law enforcement personnel will grow by nearly 20 percent by 2016. Turnover among young officers, meanwhile, complicates some agencies' efforts to groom future leaders, and with a wave of Baby Boomers approaching retirement age, law enforcement is working to forestall a leadership vacuum.

In 2005 and 2006, about 60 Utah Highway Patrol troopers -- one-eighth of the force -- retired, many to take advantage of an expiring retirement benefit. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office had a 3 percent turnover among deputies in 2006, but that number jumped to 9 percent in 2008. That spike was also attributed to changes in retirement benefits.

Eight officers have left the 100-officer West Jordan Police Department in two years. Three took jobs at other police departments, said Sgt. Drew Sanders. Two retired. One went to work as a contractor in Iraq. Another two left police work altogether.

Draper saw five of its 33 officers leave in recent years. Chief Mac Connole appreciates the U. program because it helps police officers advance their careers, even if it means they leave his department.

"Whatever they can do to improve their family situation, I'll certainly help them out," Connole said.

The U. program works with management-track officers like Fernandez and UHP's Troy Marx.

"These are seasoned people," said Anne O'Brien, director of the U.'s professional education program. "They are coming up through the ranks. We want to make sure they are ready."

Participating officers hail from a variety of agencies, including UHP, Salt Lake City Airport Police, the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho, Millard County and the U. itself. The leadership program, which costs participants $1,500 and is subsidized with a grant from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, spreads nine days of class time over the next three semesters.

"The ability to network and learn from each other is pretty powerful," O'Brien said. In addition to mastering leadership principals, participants are expected to leave the course with a plan for positive change within their organizations.

"By really looking at what works and what doesn't, we've been able to create a very solid, standardized leadership program for Utah's law enforcement agencies," O'Brien said. "We see training as a key part of recruiting and retaining quality leaders and maintaining a high level of service in public safety."

This course, which builds on the U.'s successful fire services leadership academy, goes above and beyond the 40 hours of annual training Utah officers are required to undergo to maintain their certification. Instructors include Camille Anthony of the U. law school's Utah Criminal Justice Center; adjunct faculty Pam Gardiol, an expert in organizational leadership; and attorney Corper James.

bmaffly@sltrib.com ncarlisle@sltrib.com

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