Two police officers help keep Sandy’s parks and trails safeJan 13, 2021 01:23PM ● By Justin Adams
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
For over a year now, the Sandy City Police Department has had a special unit dedicated to keeping the city’s many parks and trails safe.
That’s no small task, considering the city is home to hundreds of miles of trails (both within the metro area and along the slopes of the Wasatch Front) and over 40 parks (including Dimple Dell Park and its 600 acres).
Two officers are responsible for that huge amount of territory: Officers Graham Tinius and Jacob Olsen.
“That’s the struggle we have every day,” explained Olsen to the Sandy Journal on a ride-along last month. “Sometimes we can’t get to every park equally but we keep stats to make sure that we’re hitting everywhere.”
Olsen, who has been with the Sandy Police Department since 2015, decided to apply for the newly created position because of the opportunity he saw to be out in the community.
“I like changing what I’m doing every couple years,” he said. “It seemed like a nice change, going out and meeting people, doing proactive police work.”
As a regular patrol officer, Olsen’s days were often constrained by the demand to always get to the next call. But now he has the flexibility to stop and have a lengthy conversation with a hiker in Dimple Dell about issues within the park or to spend time with a homeless individual.
Graham and Tinius double as the city’s representatives on the County’s homeless task force. Especially during the winter months when there’s less activity in the parks, they spend time checking in on Sandy’s homeless community, making sure they know what resources are available to them, buying them a meal or a pair of shoes occasionally, or simply having a conversation with them.
While the new unit was conceived with the intention to deter crime (such as a sexual assault that occurred in Dimple Dell Park in 2019), the officers spend much more time serving than actively protecting.
“The parks are pretty safe,” said Graham, who noted that it’s “not very often” that they have to deal with issues more serious than dogs off leashes or people swimming in Bell Canyon reservoir. While they are able to issue citations for things like that, Graham said that he’s usually more inclined to educate people on what the city’s ordinances are and why they’re important.
“Every situation is different. Depends on the officer. Depends on where they are. If your dog’s close and you have verbal command I’ll probably just give you a warning. If you didn’t even bring a leash, that’s a different story.”
One of the officers’ most common activities is assisting the fire department with search and rescue operations for lost or injured hikers.
That includes an effort to document access points to Dimple Dell and Bell Canyon, noting which are accessible by foot, four-wheeler and/or their patrol truck, which is also a new feature.
Previously, if a call came in for a stranded hiker, officers would have had to drive back to city hall and pick up a four-wheeler and then drive back to the location in order to help. Now with trucks, they’re able to go directly to the aid of the person in need.
Between the mapping effort and the improved equipment, Graham said they’ve been able to shave the time it takes to get to a stranded hiker down from upward of an hour to as little as five minutes.
Those extra minutes made a huge difference for one Sandy resident who was thrown off their horse and sustained serious injuries early last year. Officer Tinius happened to be nearby, and was able to locate the individual using the mapping system they had been working on. They were then able to send a GPS location to the fire department and instruct them on which nearby access points were best suited for the operation.
That incident was recounted by then-Chief Bill O’Neal to the city council as evidence of the effectiveness of the new unit.
“It’s so essential to have officers who have an in-depth knowledge of the park, its trails, its access points. It can save lives,” said Sandy Councilmember Monica Zoltanski at the time.
In a year that has seen increased scrutiny directed toward policing across the country, Graham said that it’s increasingly important for officers to have positive interactions with residents in the community.
“That’s one thing I’m trying to do with this job,” he said. “There are guys that want to fight crime and ‘fight the bad guys.’ Then there are guys that want to be community caretakers. With me, I want to go out and make a difference in someone’s life.”