Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder and Sgt. Bret Edge greeted trick or treaters outside the Old Spanish Trail Arena on Halloween. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

When Moab’s new police chief Jim Winder married his wife Shawn 20 years ago, his patrol dog “Atticus” served as “best man,” and Shawn’s explosives detective dog “Nikko” was the “ring bearer.”

That’s not surprising, perhaps, considering the couple met while Winder was training avalanche rescue dogs at the Solitude Ski Resort in Salt Lake County, where Shawn worked as a ski patrolwoman and was interested in becoming a dog handler.

After 32 years, during which Winder trained police dogs worldwide, and oversaw the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake, Winder moved to Moab, where he became the city’s chief of police in July.

A native of Utah, Winder, 53, grew up in the Salt Lake Valley, where his family had owned a dairy farm for generations. Winder said he loved the Salt Lake community, but it was time for a change.

Attending funerals of fallen policemen is among Winder’s many responsibilities. The murder of a colleague, and the unexpected deaths of a half-dozen other officers in recent years took a toll on him, he said.

“It was not just a place I worked – these were my dear friends and colleagues,” Winder said. “It really was difficult.”

Adding to these personal losses, Winder said he was weary of city politics; he found the level of public discourse to be unpalatable.

“On social media, people don’t just discuss things, they stake out positions, and vehemently say anything,” Winder said. “It’s all done on the Internet and becomes a mass of negativity and vitriol. What I’m seeing nationally is politicians throwing in the towel for the same reasons.”

Winder said he wanted to go where he could concentrate on what he loves – police work, and doing good things for the community.

“Serendipitously, I became aware of the position in Moab,” he said. “(Moab) City Manager David Everitt offered me the job and I jumped on it. I was ready for a smaller market.”

Everitt said Chief Winder is “a great fit for Moab.”

“He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge about how to run an organization, and also with regard to specific issues that are very relevant to Moab today, such as dealing with large crowds and events, addressing homeless and transient concerns with holistic approaches, and emergency management,” Everitt told the Moab Sun News.

Moab Police Sgt. Bret Edge, who has been with the force for 11 years, said he’s noticed that Winder motivates employees to do better, due to his own “charisma” and “leadership ability.”

“He has no ego; no arrogance, whatsoever,” Edge said. “He has a natural leadership style.

“Everyone here is thrilled to have Jim on board – and that includes the spouses. He has our back. We’re all thankful for the opportunity to work for him and continue building our agency.”

Both Moab and Salt Lake City deal with similar issues like domestic abuse, drug arrests and high-speed car chases – the main difference being volume, with Moab’s problems occurring less frequently, Winder said.

While attacking crime is important, Winder said he is interested in getting to the root of problems that lead to crime.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has worked with Winder in several capacities since 2005. They worked on investigations together, as well as multiple broader policy issues such as jail overcrowding, and mental health services at the jail.

Winder advocated for rehabilitation models within the jail, Gill said. For example, in Salt Lake, Winder founded a community garden program where inmates tilled the soil and grew fruits and vegetables, the excess of which they sold at a farmers’ market.

“Think about that,” Gill said. “Gardening is a meditative activity. Inmates worked with the elements, producing something of value. It’s healthy for mind and soul, and an opportunity for reform and reflection in a way keeping someone in a jail cell is not.”

Winder recognizes homelessness is a controversial issue for communities wrestling with how to deal with it. He maintains there’s a spectrum of homelessness that includes those who need services, like the chronically mentally ill; individuals who need help kicking substance addictions, and those who could work but choose to steal and engage in violence – making it even more difficult for those with mental health issues who are homeless.

“Jim realizes the greater value in lending support to the mentally ill,” Gill said.

Moab is unique, in that “the generational poverty rates are among the highest in Utah,” Winder said. “It’s a community of haves and have-nots. Our job is to work with the community and figure out how to lessen the drivers of crime.”

Winder said he’s been given a “very good team” in Moab, and is busy revamping and updating various policies and procedures. The department will also be reviewing equipment, to make sure everything is in good working order, he said.

Additionally, Winder is reviewing the reporting structure to ensure accountability, and that officers are clear on their responsibilities and understand whom they are to report to on a daily basis.

With one female officer among a staff of 17 males, Winder said Moab needs to work to diversify its police force.

“My hope is that the Moab department will reflect the demography of the community – in race and gender,” he said.

When he’s not at work, Winder enjoys spending time with his two children, a 15-year-old daughter, and 11-year-old son named Atticus – not named for the dog, he quickly clarifies. The name Atticus comes from a character in one of his favorite books, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“My kids are my greatest joy,” Winder said.

He also loves the outdoors, and dabbling in painting, sketching and photography.

His wife Shawn recently retired from a 22-year career as a firefighter-paramedic, during which time she served as the first female firefighter captain in Park City – a fact her husband proudly notes.

Winder said he learned about the criminal justice system while growing up with his father, a judge. After a spell working in construction, at age 20, Winder enrolled in a police academy to become a police officer.

“I wanted to make a difference,” he said.

“Jim is one of the brightest persons I know,” his former Salt Lake colleague, Gill, said. “He’s very smart; thinks outside the box; is very creative. There’s not a challenge he doesn’t want to solve.

“Jim’s leaving here is Salt Lake City’s loss, and Moab’s incredible gain.”

Jim Winder takes a more holistic approach to solving crime; Seeks greater diversity for MPD

Everyone here is thrilled to have Jim on board – and that includes the spouses. He has our back. We’re all thankful for the opportunity to work for him and continue building our agency.