Sandy • Salt Lake County Democrats on Saturday chose Unified Police Deputy Chief Rosie Rivera to lead one of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies as county sheriff through 2018.
Once the County Council signs off, she will become the county’s first female sheriff and the only woman overseeing a sheriff’s office in Utah.
Rivera, who has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and has overseen policing for the Unified Police Department in its Riverton precinct, is poised to replace former Sheriff Jim Winder, who left in July — a year before his term expired to lead the Moab Police Department.
“We together can ensure that there’s equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for everyone,” Rivera said Saturday morning. “We will hire, we will retain and we will make opportunities for everyone.”
Dozens of Rivera supporters, including UPD employees and others, cheered as the county party’s leaders announced Rivera had beaten the four men also vying for the spot at the convention at the Salt Lake Community College Miller Campus.
Once she’s sworn in, Rivera will take over at a time of immense pressure to fight crime and improve homeless services in Salt Lake County, all of which involves an overcrowded jail Rivera will oversee.
“It will be a change, I think, for the public more than for law enforcement,” Rivera said. ”I want them to see that women can be leaders, too.”
The County Council must ratify the party’s decision and is scheduled to do so Tuesday. State law, which dictates how political parties fill elected positions when officials resign or retire, doesn’t give it power to block the selection.
Her supporters heralded the party’s choice, which they said will make her one of few sheriffs of color in the nation.
Rivera told the gathering of Democratic insiders she would win the 2018 election, when the position is on the ballot again for a full, four-year term.
“My idea is community policing,” she said. “To bring us all together so we can get together and work on the homeless issue, the jail bed issue, the opioid epidemic.”
Once she’s sworn in, Rivera will take over for Undersheriff Scott Carver, who has been acting sheriff in the wake of Winder’s departure in July.
Rivera said part of the solution for crowding at the jail is having the county fund the operation of the Oxbow lockup, where hundreds of potential beds are unused. It would cost more than $9 million to staff and operate that facility jail, according to sheriff’s office estimates.
Another solution, Rivera said, is ensuring people who don’t need to be in jail aren’t kept there.
“We want to incarcerate the most dangerous individuals that don’t need to be on the street,” Rivera said. “The other piece is those who come to jail who don’t belong there, such as people who suffer from mental illness. If they committed a violent crime, they belong there.”
Rivera edged out Steve Anjewierden in a runoff vote after the two bested three other active law enforcement officials in a first vote among 271 Democratic insiders.
In her speech before the runoff vote, Ken Hansen, Levi Hughes and Fred Ross — who lost in the first round — stood by her side. The crowd roared as the party’s county chairman, Quang Dang, announced Rivera defeated Anjewierden, 173-81, on the second ballot.
Anjewierden, who was flanked by Salt Lake County Councilman Sam Granato, congratulated Rivera on her victory.
“I’m proud of the race I ran and gave it a great effort. I love the sheriff‘s office, UPD and our community,” he said. “Congratulations to Rosie.”
Her selection was quickly welcomed by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
“Congratulations, Sheriff Rivera! I look forward to working with you,” Cox wrote on Twitter. ”We’ve got a lot to do.”
Rivera will be sheriff as a large collection of state, city and county agencies has assembled working groups to perform a crime sweep of the Rio Grande area in downtown Salt Lake City. The state worked to temporarily free up hundreds of beds in the county jail as part of the effort, and Rivera will be thrown into months of ongoing discussions on the issue.
She said she’s been kept apprised of the upcoming police action in the neighborhood as part of UPD’s command staff.
“It will be a very smooth transition,” Rivera said. “I’m already at the helm of the other commanders.”
Correction: 10:54 p.m. Aug. 12: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Quang Dang's title. He is chairman for the Salt Lake County Democratic Party.