Colleagues honor Washington City Police Chief Jim Keith during retirement ceremony

WASHINGTON CITY — More than 100 people gathered Thursday to honor a 34-year law enforcement veteran and Washington City police chief who has led his officers since the police department’s launch more than 13 years ago.

More than 100 people gathered to honor Washington City Police Chief Jim Keith at a retirement event held in Washington City, Utah, March 28, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Emotions ran high during a celebration at the Washington City Community Center among friends and family members as well as police officers from a number of agencies, firefighters, city employees, civic leaders and council members.

Jim Keith has served as Washington City’s police chief since 2005, spending a year developing, staffing and implementing the new department prior to its launch. Before that, services were provided by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Keith said he is going to miss the daily interaction with law enforcement that has led to friendships that have not only endured, but have been strengthened over three decades.

Referring to his officers, Keith said the department is being left in good hands, adding that he “is just really proud of these guys.”

His plans for the future are fairly simple: spending “committed, dedicated” time with his family.

L-R: St. George Police Chief Richard Farnsworth and Washington City Police Chief Jim Keith in conversation during a retirement event for Keith held in Washington City, Utah, March 28, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“When I say being committed and dedicated I mean being there mentally,” Keith said. “I haven’t been there for 34 years – I’ve been there physically, but in my mind I was always thinking about work and the safety of everybody else.”

Keith’s career began when he joined the Layton Police Department in 1985 as a patrol officer.

Retired Layton City Police Sgt. Bob Allinson presented Keith with a key for his years of service to Layton City, a key that was taken from the agency’s old jail before it was demolished in the ’70s.

“Keith probably used this key more than any other officer in keeping Layton safe,” Allinson said. “I’m very proud of him and for what he’s become,”

Keith left Layton City and began a 12-year tenure with the Utah Department of Public Safety where he served in a number of departments before taking the job with Washington City in 2005.

Keith said that being a part of implementing a police department is rare and something many chiefs do not have the opportunity to experience.

As the city grew so did the services and in 2016 the police department moved from the old insurance building where it began into a state-of-the-art facility where more than 27 sworn officers and five civilian officers serve the city’s 25,000 residents.

“The people that work with me in this department are top notch – they are second to none,” Keith said.

Washington City Lt. Jason Williams who will become the city’s new police chief April 1 addresses crowd during a retirement party for outgoing chief Jim Keith held in Washington City, Utah, March 28, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

From the beginning, he said, he never felt like a one or two man department largely due to the cooperation and collaboration that crosses geographical borders and jurisdictions throughout Washington County.

Washington City Manager Roger Carter stood beside Keith in the parking lot across from city hall at midnight Jan. 1, 2006 when the chief “called our police department into service,” Carter said, adding that in a few short days Keith will stand down.

“You did it. Well done chief,” he said.

Keith said he spent eight months giving thoughtful consideration to retirement and he leaves his post having fulfilled a majority of his career goals.

“There are people I’ve grown to know and experiences I’ve had that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

He also mentioned his experience working in the emergency management side of the job as well as working with the fire department and other services that make up the spectrum of public safety services.

A table set up with awards, gifts and memorabilia is on display during a retirement event held for Washington City Police Chief Jim Keith held in Washington City, Utah, Utah, March 28, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“This has been an absolutely wonderful experience for me and I hope that our efforts collectively, with the partnerships we’ve made in our community and the county as a whole, have enhanced the quality of life that all can enjoy.”

Washington City Mayor Ken Nielson said the police officers and staff are the legacy Keith leaves behind. “They are a tribute to you for a job well done.”

Chief Mark Askerlund with the Colorado City Marshall’s Office, referring to Keith’s retirement, said, “He earned it with 34 years of service dedicating a good part of his life to law enforcement. He’s a great mentor and a great chief.”

Cheryl Keith told the crowd that she is “very excited for the next chapter with her husband,” and looks forward to spending time with him, which was a rare commodity, a fact that she was well aware of coming from a family with more than 85 years of law enforcement service.

She said the police officers in Washington City are part of their family and expressed her gratitude for their service and support of her husband. “Thank you for keeping him safe, for letting him come home every night and especially for keeping yourselves safe.”

The new chief will be Lt. Jason Williams who has served the department for more than a decade and was selected from a pool of 63 applicants. A swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for April 1 at 11 a.m.

Allinson told Williams, “I know you have some very big shoes to fill but you’ll do just fine – no doubt about that.”

St. George News reporter Mori Kessler contributed to this report.

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