COLORADO CITY—The Colorado City Marshal’s Office has been getting more calls for help lately. The increase isn’t caused by a spike in crime, says Colorado City Police Chief Robb Radley, but instead by an increase in trust.
In August of 2019, Radley was sworn in as chief of police for the twin cities of Colorado City and Hildale, which straddle the Utah/Arizona border. He took over a big job that started under the guidance of his predecessor Mark Askerland, who served a 15-month tenure. Radley was tasked with rebooting a police force that had been put under a 10-year injunction by a federal judge. The reputation of the Marshal’s Office had suffered along with its legal standing.
In 2017, a federal court determined that Hildale and Colorado City, a region collectively known as Short Creek, had for decades operated essentially as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints. This included the marshal’s office, which jurors concluded was guilty of denying lawful policing to residents who weren’t part of the polygamous denomination.
Alleged misconduct included searching non-believers’ property, arresting people without probable cause and ignoring criminal acts like underage marriage on the part of FLDS Church members.
The Colorado City Marshal’s Office was ordered to revise its policies, adopt new internal affairs guidelines and hire two new officers. The changes were to be made in consultation with a mentor for the chief of police and under the supervision of a police consultant. Radley said he kept his aims simple.
“I just wanted to come out and do unbiased policing, treat everybody with respect and do what we were supposed to do,” he said.
Radley said he hasn’t done a lot of research about the area’s turbulent past because he views his job as helping the area move forward. Still, he’s had residents share war stories about how things used to be.
“A lot of the complaints that I would hear were that it wasn’t fair, that there was bias, that they (non-FLDS residents) weren’t treated equally by law,” Radley said. “I came here to overcome exactly those things, and allow people to know that they can call the police department and have police officers come to help them with a problem.”
An outside perspective
Radley is originally from the Salt Lake City area and now lives in St. George, commuting to his job. He finds his outsider status helpful.
“The benefit to that is I don’t have any history, so there’s nothing for me to answer to in the community,” Radley said. “What it allows me to do is not be swayed because I’m related to so-and-so or I’ve known so-and-so for 20 years. I just have to look at the situation for what it is, get the information and then make the best decision possible.”
The advantage of this, he added, is to give a clean-slate, outside perspective along with the skill set he’s acquired throughout his career.
One skill set Radley has honed during his time in Short Creek is the unique proposition of policing in two states.
“We are back and forth across the Utah border, I don’t know how many times a day,” he said. “We don’t count. The challenge with being police officers in both states means we have to abide by both states’ mandates. All the training, all the things you have to do in one state, we have to do likewise in the other state.”
The Colorado City Marshal’s Office has a thicker rulebook than many law enforcement agencies, particularly given it’s used to police a cumulative population of fewer than 5,000 people.
“Let’s say we have separate laws that are different from Utah to Arizona, because you have different court decisions that have been made, then it’s broken down in our policy and procedure manual, Utah and Arizona,” Radley said. “It makes the manual longer, but we do it every day, and it’s like anything else you do every day – you become really proficient at it. You don’t have to think about it after that. Our biggest challenge is when we’re on daylight savings and our times are off. You have to think about the time of day, because you cross the time zone every time you cross the border.”
Radley says the problems that occur in Colorado City and Hildale are representative of those facing cities across the country.
“We don’t have any particular call that’s more than anything else as far as policing goes. It’s pretty much small-town America policing,” he said. “We have probably everything occur that you would have occur in a big city, it’s just kind of by per-capita. We just have a lot less. Knock on wood, we haven’t had any homicides or those things.”
Radley said Short Creek has very little theft and vandalism compared to cities of a similar size. They do, however, have plenty of kids riding ATVs and dirt bikes through the community. It’s something local police don’t crack down on too hard.
“Safety for kids is always a really large priority for us,” Radley said. “But for me as a police chief, I still want the community to feel like they have a small-town life experience. I want them to feel like, ‘I grew up in a small town. I got to do some things you don’t get to do in big cities.’ It’s a rural community. There should be some benefit to that.”
Adding to the small-town feel of policing Colorado City and Hildale, area police are still writing tickets by hand. With the police station newly renovated, the marshal’s office is now working on updating its technology, making its system computerized. Despite the changes, Radley said there are still people who view Colorado city and Hildale as bastions of lawlessness.
In reality, Radley said it’s a warm community, where FLDS Church members and non-members live and work side-by-side, kids feel safe staying out after dark and almost everyone shows up to the annual Fourth of July festivities. It’s also, of course, right in the backyard of Zion.
“We have a lot of visitors and we have a lot of recreational opportunities that people come out for,” he said. “If I were to take you on a drive and we were to go up the canyon, you’d see (license) plates from out of state, from all over the country. That’s what I would like people to understand is that what you heard historically is not accurate today. That’s OK. We’re transitioning. Life has moved on.”
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