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Jim Tracy hands in his keys after nearly 16 years as Utah County sheriff

August 4, 2018
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Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy speaks at a ceremony for the dedication of a park in Sgt. Cory Wride's honor in Eagle Mountain on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

Jim Tracy never planned on being the Utah County sheriff.

After decades with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, Tracy was lined up to retire in 2002, but said enough deputies asked him to run that he ended up doing so.

“I was going to go into private security, with the LDS Church, actually,” Tracy said. “I had many deputies at that time ask if I would run, and after consultation with my wife, we decided we would do that.”

He went on to serve four terms, nearly 16 years, as Utah County’s sheriff’s, ending his 41-year career Friday.

His fourth term as sheriff would have ended in December, had Tracy not first announced his unexpected resignation in a Utah County Commission meeting July 3.

Tracy’s sudden announcement indicated that his reason for resigning five months short of his fourth term as sheriff had to do with a disagreement with the commission over funding for jail, though he later said deteriorating health and allowing the incoming sheriff to have a say in the budget process factored into his decision.

As he reflected back on the last four decades, Tracy noted the drastic changes the county has undergone during that time.

Tracy was 23 years old when he started as a deputy sheriff, the 26th officer to join the office. Utah County’s population was about 180,000, and the Utah County Jail had a capacity of less than 50 beds.

The county’s population has since burgeoned to well over 600,000, with nearly 300 sworn deputies and a jail that can hold 1,200 inmates.

After taking criminal justice classes at Brigham Young University in Provo starting in 1975, Tracy got a job near Portland, Oregon, as a reserve officer, where he stayed for about a year.

Getting back to Utah County was Tracy’s goal, however, and he moved back to Utah in 1977, applying for jobs with the Provo Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

Two of the three entities extended job offers. Tracy chose the Sheriff’s Office.

Tracy said wrapping up the long career Friday was bittersweet. Essentially his whole adult life was spent as a Utah County Sheriff’s Office employee.

“This is all I’ve ever known in my working career,” Tracy said. “From that aspect, I’m going to miss the associations with people. I can honestly say I’m not going to miss the politics too much, but I will miss the interaction with so many people that have been great coworkers and leaders in the county.”

There have been many high points, Tracy said — too many to count. The expansion of the Utah County Jail in 2007 and the construction of the Thistle Range in 1993 were just a couple he mentioned.

Tracy didn’t hesitate when specifying the low point of his long career. Easily, that was January 2014, when Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride was shot and killed in the line of duty when he made a stop along State Route 73 outside Eagle Mountain.

“There wasn’t any tougher time than when you go through the loss of one of your men in the line of duty,” Tracy said.

Though content with his career, Tracy said if there’s one thing he would have liked to get around to that he didn’t, it was expanding the county probation program that worked in conjunction with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to monitor activities of people who are put into treatment instead of jail.

Tracy said the program essentially has deputies track people to make sure they are attending treatment.

“The program has been hugely successful, but it’s full,” Tracy said. “We need additional resources for it. We are not meeting the need, and with the opioid epidemic, the need is continuing to grow.”

The Utah County Republican Party will open filing for Tracy’s vacant position Saturday. Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Smith is the only sheriff candidate on the November ballot from any party, and is essentially guaranteed to take office in January.

Smith has said he is prepared to take office early, and plans to file to fill the vacancy. Even if, as expected, Smith is the only candidate to file, he will have to be approved at a special election held by the UCRP on Aug. 18.

Tracy said his advice to his successor is to remember the office of sheriff is unique, because it’s the only law enforcement position that is elected.

“With that responsibility, a sheriff needs to keep in touch and grounded with his constituents so he can put priorities and initiatives in place that people want to see,” Tracy said.

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