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Polygamous Community Targets Outsider For Police Chief

Trent Nelson | Salt Lake Tribune

A polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border is planning to hire an outsider as its new police chief in a move that new town leaders say will bring more fairness to a department that a jury found had discriminated against people who aren't members of the dominant religious sect.

A new police chief could be named within weeks, said Donia Jessop, the new mayor of Hildale, Utah. She has been briefed on the search being done by independent monitors appointed by the U.S. government to watch over the police department after an Arizona jury found in March 2016 that Hildale and its sister city, Colorado City, Arizona, denied nonbelievers police protection, building permits and water hookups.

None of the current town police officers had the necessary experience or expressed desire to seek the position, known as town marshal. The police agency monitors about 8,000 residents.

The previous chief, Jerry Darger, was fired in March. He is a member of religious group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, which has been losing control of a community it ruled for decades amid government crackdowns.

Darger is among an exodus of FLDS town officials and employees who have left following the November elections, when Jessop unseated the incumbent mayor who was a member of the FLDS. Jessop became the first woman and first non-member of the polygamous sect to hold the seat.

Three other non-sect members won city council seats in Hildale. The remaining two FLDS council members recently resigned and will be replaced Wednesday night at a meeting where the council will select new members among seven candidates, Jessop said. None of the candidates are members of the FLDS, she said.

It's unclear how many candidates have applied for the police chief job and what level of experience they offer. It is a unique job in a community made up of mostly of former sect members who have been kicked out or left on their own, or current followers of a group still run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs. He is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

While Jessop and others applaud the changes, sect members believe the town they built and love is being ripped away from them. They believe Jeffs is their prophet and was wrongly convicted.

The job posting says the town is looking for someone with leadership experience and community orientated policing to lead an agency with six deputies and one sergeant. The job will pay $5,700-$6,700 a month. The new marshal will be required to live within 35 miles of the community, which leaves open the option of the nearby city of Hurricane. That city of about 16,000 people is a more traditional Western US city.

The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the story .

Longtime community member Katie Cox said she likes the idea of a neutral person holding the post and treating all community members equally.

"Some unbiased law enforcement would be a good thing," said Cox, who left the FLDS years ago. "It might be a difficult job though so I hope it will be someone who is well qualified and has patience."

Jessop said she's hoping they find someone with "a lot of experience, empathy and compassion."

"There's been so much happen here and so much change," said Jessop, a former member of the FLDS. "We want someone so badly to come in and help us set things right."

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