ST. GEORGE — St. George City Council didn’t have to look far to fill its open position for chief of police.
In a 4-0 vote Thursday, with council member Gregg McArthur absent, the council appointed the former interim chief, Kyle Whitehead, to permanently continue running the day-to-day operations of the St. George Police Department.
Whitehead was hired in 1999 as a full-time police officer for the department and rose through the ranks to sergeant in 2005, lieutenant 2007 and captain in 2011. He was appointed as deputy chief of police in 2018, then interim chief in March following the abrupt retirement of Richard Farnsworth.
The new chief of police said he is pleased to have been given the nod of support by the City Council and to have the chance to lead his department into the future.
“I am really excited and very humbled with being given the chance to continue to move the department forward in a positive direction,” Whitehead said.
Arguably it’s been a different world since assuming the title of interim chief. Within weeks of taking the top leadership position, America changed.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and pointed questions aimed at law enforcement, first responders began to take a hard look at the role they play in the community.
During peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in St. George following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Whitehead rose to the occasion to lead his officers by example.
Leading from the top and maintaining open lines of communication is key, he said, to maintaining a responsible police force that pays attention to its community.
“I think our department does really good at interacting with the public,” he said. “I think there are things we need to continue to look at and do better, but I am trying to find new ways to reach out to the public and assure them that we are here to support everyone and that everyone can approach us with their concerns and challenges.”
The goal, Whitehead added, is not to take sides but rather remain impartial.
“These are unprecedented times,” he said. “These are things we haven’t seen in St. George, and our officers responded very professionally and adapted well. We’ve learned some lessons, but we will keep moving forward.”
Whitehead said the job can be a “very delicate balance at times.”
“Politically there is a lot of difference in opinion, but as a police department, we will continue to protect everybody and treat everyone with dignity and respect. Moving forward, it’s about continuing communication and being a good community partner.”
Born and raised in St. George, Whitehead said growing up in the Dixie Downs area was everything you could imagine a young boy would want out of life.
He said that in high school, he knew his aim was always to be in law enforcement. However, the genesis of becoming a police officer perhaps came from his grandfather who served as Washington County’s sheriff for 16 years in the 1960s.
City officials said although they could have opened up the position for St. George chief of police to other applicants, in their minds there was only one man for the job: Kyle Whitehead.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike said Whitehead was “the right man, in the right job at the right time.”
“Chief Whitehead has proven himself over the years and especially during the past six months,” he said. “I think he is going to continue to be fantastic. He was the first choice and the only choice.”
In a show of support, Whitehead’s wife, Misty, his three daughters and police department family and other first responders came out and nearly packed the council chamber for Whitehead’s appointment.
After significant appreciation from those attending the ceremony, the mayor, city leadership and City Council weighed in on Whitehead’s appointment.
“He is the best of the best,” said council member Jimmie Hughes. “There is nobody with more integrity and more love for our community.”
Also rising through the ranks of the St. George Police Department on Thursday were Thad Feltner, who was appointed during the meeting as deputy chief, and Jordan Minnick as captain overseeing the investigation division.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.