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Sandy Journal

Meet Sandy’s new police chief Bill O’Neal

Jul 23, 2018 02:05PM ● By Justin Adams

Sandy Police Chief Bill O’Neal stands next to a patrol car at the police department headquarters. (Justin Adams/Sandy Journal)

By Justin Adams | j.adams@mycityjournals.com 

Throughout his 23-year career as a police officer in Sandy, Bill O’Neal has had the opportunity to literally save people’s lives but if you asked him, he’d say that’s not even the most gratifying part of his job. 

“Being there to save someone’s life is a great thing. But also making a difference in someone’s life is what reminds me that it’s all worth it,” said O’Neal. “You run into people years later and they say, ‘Hey, you may not realize it, but you really helped me and changed the path I was on,’ those are just as rewarding, if not more.”

That kind of connection and service to the community is the number one thing O’Neal wants to improve throughout the Sandy Police Department as he takes over as its chief. 

“In community-oriented policing, we empower the officers to take ownership of their communities. I want us to get back to that,” said O’Neal. “I’ve challenged the officers to get out there and get known, to take time to walk into business and introduce themselves, ask what problems they’re facing and then find out how they can better serve them.” 

Public service has been a part of O’Neal’s life since he was a child when his father’s position in the US Navy led his family to move all around the United States before settling in Utah. 

“We lived pretty much anywhere on the coasts, so it was a hard adjustment as a beach kid to move to Utah. All I had was shorts and tank tops at the time,” laughed O’Neal. 

The sacrifices of living in a military family, as well as the influence of his parents, taught O’Neal the importance of giving to his community. 

“They instilled in me from the time I was very young that serving your country and community is the most important thing you can do. It’s a right we’re given but it’s also our duty as an American to give back.”

Since joining the Sandy Police Department in 1995, O’Neal has had the opportunity to serve in a variety of roles and functions including patrol officer, community oriented police officer, DARE officer, SWAT officer and in the traffic unit as a motor officer. 

Every single day at the beginning of your shift, you have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s exciting, but it’s also kind of scary,” said O’Neal about being a patrol officer. That feeling is similar to what O’Neal has gone through during the last few months as the interim-chief of the department. 

“It’s been very hectic, not knowing what the future holds and still being able to focus on the direction you need to take the police department. It’s a lot of pressure,” he said.

O’Neal took over the position after then-chief Kevin Thacker was placed on leave and eventually fired by the city amid allegations of sexual harassment within the department. Dealing with the aftermath has been one of O’Neal’s tasks in the last few months (along with the regular day-to-day management of the department, overseeing an overhauled police compensation deal and going through the application process to be the next chief permanently).

“Whenever a chief or a leader leaves, especially under unfavorable or scandalous-type circumstances, you’re going to have different factions. You’re going to have your loyalists and your people that are against that person,” said O’Neal. “We’ve had extensive talks with the officers, both individually and as a group where I say we need to put our personal views aside. What happened has happened. It is what it is, but we need to move forward.” 

Handling difficult problems is nothing new for O’Neal, though. During his two decades of being a police officer, he said there’s been many times he’s thought about moving on to something else. 

“It’s a thankless job,” he said. “After years of being exposed to the things that we’re exposed to, you start to question it. But I’ve realized, it absolutely is worth it and I’m going to continue on.” 

To learn more about Chief O’Neal like what he’s afraid of or whether he prefers Utah or BYU, watch our video “25 Questions with Sandy’s New Police Chief” on the Sandy Journal Facebook page.