Cops try to help victims of polygamy

Plans to build a new justice court in Arizona could be a boost to Utah law enforcement and might expand to include help for residents of polygamous communities along the border.

Authorities in both states have reached an agreement in principle to put a sheriff’s substation in the court that would include space for Washington County deputies. Under tentative plans, deputies from the two states stationed at the court, which is planned for the Colorado City area in Mohave County, would be authorized to help out on both sides of the border.

Arizona’s construction plans will allow Utah to beef up its law enforcement patrols in the area, Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said.

“It’s come at a good time to give us a chance to be of better service to our constituents,” the sheriff said. “We’re the fastest growing county in Utah. We’re adding 400 to 500 people a month and we don’t show any signs of slowing down.”

Smith attributed much of the growth to snowbirds, or residents from colder climates, relocating to warmer southern Utah. His office has approximately 100 sworn officers, which includes jail personnel, and covers about 2,500 square miles, he said.

Plans for a new justice-of-the-peace court in Mohave County have been in the works for several years, according to county Supervisor Pete Byers, who represents the northern Arizona district that includes Colorado City. He said supervisors want to put the new court in a more convenient location for county residents than the current one, which is located in a doublewide trailer in Moccasin.

Byers said county officials recently looked into leasing land in Colorado City for the new court, but added that a decision on an exact location is still pending.

The substation agreement is a recent addition to the court plans and came out of a summit in August where Utah and Arizona officials discussed how to tackle problems related to polygamy, such as welfare fraud, forced marriages and child and sexual abuse. Most of the 6,000 residents of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which embraces polygamy.

Smith said he and his Mohave County counterpart agreed at the summit to a joint law enforcement operation. Other participants suggested including social services and child protective offices at the court to help members of the polygamous communities, including those who want to leave, but no official decisions have been made about their inclusion.

Byers said he has no problem including other offices at the new court, but cautioned that there might not be room. The money earmarked for construction — $100,000 from Mohave County and $400,000 from court enhancement funds, which come from fees tacked on to traffic fines — was enough for a court but might not be enough for additional offices, he said.

At the August polygamy summit, the sheriffs also agreed that Colorado City would be a good location for the substation. Byers likes the spot, saying it is convenient for court workers, many of whom live in Kanab and Fredonia.

However, opponents of polygamy said the substation and any other offices should be located away from Colorado City and Hildale so community members won’t be able to monitor who goes there for help.

“If they’re looking for a place where victims could come for safe haven, they need to do more study,” Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson said.

He fears there could be a backlash if the county builds a center big enough to accommodate all the offices and residents don’t come for help because they fear being seen and forced to return home, where they would be punished for trying to leave.

Douglas White, a Bountiful lawyer who represents Tapestry Against Polygamy, which is fighting to stop abuses in the polygamous community, said the summit and plans for a new substation are positive steps.

The next steps are to locate the substation where FLDS members could go without being spotted, he said, and to ensure that all law enforcement officers who practice polygamy are fired. “People don’t think of them as law enforcement,” White said. “They think of them as bodyguards for the [FLDS] prophet.”

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