Jared Garcia begins his new position as Moab City Police Chief on May 9. [Courtesy photo]

The City of Moab announced on April 11 that it has hired a new police chief. Jared Garcia, who currently serves as a captain for Utah Highway Patrol, will take leadership of the MCPD on May 9.

“I am incredibly grateful, and humbled by the opportunity to lead the Moab Police Department,” Garcia said in a city press release, going on to thank city staff and officials for their trust in him. Garcia has about two decades of experience in law enforcement, both with the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah State Bureau of Investigation.

Garcia will take over leadership from Chief Bret Edge, who took on the role in 2019 after over 10 years with the department. Edge took an extended leave of absence in the fall of 2021, in the midst of national scrutiny of the department: A third-party investigation found that Moab police officers violated policy in their handling of a domestic violence case between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, which brought widespread attention when Petito was later found murdered in Wyoming. Months after that, Laundrie was found dead by suicide.

That national spotlight was added to other apparent problems in the department. A local judge admonished Moab City Police Officers for frequently failing to use their body cameras correctly. One Moab officer resigned after an investigation into his conduct in a call for suspected domestic violence in which drugs were discovered on-scene. Prosecutors questioned discrepancies between his testimony and body camera footage, and also the legality of the search that revealed the drugs. Early this year, an investigation found two other Moab police officers violated policy in an alleged child abuse case from 2021. In April of 2021, several officers resigned all at once from the already short-staffed department. Recruitment and retention is difficult for the Moab department in part because of a lack of attainable housing in the area.

Amid the turbulence, some onlookers in the fall of 2021 were dismayed to see Edge promoting his photography business on social media while he was on Family and Medical Leave from the police department.

When Edge returned to work in January, the city announced that he would be serving in a transitional role while officials looked for a new police chief. In Edge’s absence, Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer served as acting chief; Palmer has since left Moab City, and his LinkedIn profile says he is employed at the St. George Police Department. Moab Communications Manager Lisa Church said that Edge, too, is no longer with the MCPD.

Moab officials hope Garcia’s experience will prove to make him the leader the MCPD needs.

“Captain Garcia is a seasoned law enforcement leader with wide-ranging investigative and administrative experience,” said Moab City Manager Carly Castle. “We’re excited that he has agreed to head the Moab Police Department. His commitment to improving officer morale and training, and to building strong relationships within the community are exactly what we need as we look to the future.”

Garcia has been in charge of investigations of criminal activity including terrorism, homicide, sexual assault, narcotics, and property crimes; overseen the victim services program for the Department of Public Safety; led the Youth Narcotics Task Force; and been in charge of the Narcotics and Violent Crime unit, among other responsibilities. In Salt Lake City, he served as the head of a controversial initiative called Operation Rio Grande that aimed to reduce crime and homelessness in a neighborhood that had become rife with both. Critics of the effort said it punished people who need help and only relocated homelessness, rather than reducing it; supporters said the effort brought many addicts to seek recovery services and made a lawless neighborhood safe again.

The city press release also noted Garcia’s receipt of the “40 under 40” award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2017. The award recognizes 40 officers from around the world “who demonstrate leadership and exemplify commitment to their profession.”

Garcia expressed optimism regarding his new position.

“My family and I are very excited to join the community and make Moab our new home,” he said in the press release. “I believe the future is very bright. I am looking forward to working side by side with our officers as we seek opportunities to positively engage the community and provide exceptional public safety services to all people in Moab.”

“Captain Garcia is a seasoned law enforcement leader with wide-ranging investigative and administrative experience.” Carly Castle