San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson’s office in the public safety building is big and bright. A window on the west side lets in the afternoon sun, almost enough to make you forget the office is housed in a jail.
He’s getting a new computer set up, and the office is relatively bare. Sheriff Torgerson greets me with a smile and a warm handshake. He’s genuinely nice and welcoming.
On January 1, Sheriff Torgerson took over as the new county sheriff. Previously the Chief of Police in Blanding, Torgerson was elected by the voters of San Juan County last November to fill the shoes of retiring Sheriff Rick Eldredge.
Sheriff Torgerson comes to the office with the respect of those he has worked with throughout his career.
J.J. Bradford, Sheriff Torgerson’s successor in Blanding, remembers Torgerson’s first day as the Blanding City Chief of Police three years ago. “He told us, ‘It’s not my job to make yours easier. We’re here to serve the citizens and give them the best police service possible,’” said Bradford.
“He worked right beside us. As chief, he would take on cases and follow up with officers to make sure people were taken care of.”
A local Adult Probation and Parole agent observed, “When he engages you, you feel like he cares about what your concerns are. And his officers in Blanding are the same way – every single one. They treat people with respect. They’re understanding. They don’t talk down to people, even Sheriff Torgerson, who is taller than most.”
Sheriff Torgerson aims to bring that level of confidence in law enforcement and commitment to citizens to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department. He took time out of a busy week to answer a few questions for the San Juan Record.
Q: What’s your background? Why did you want to become sheriff?
A: I started as a deputy in Sevier County over in Richfield. I was hired as a corrections officer first and then was able to go out on the road as a patrol deputy. I moved over here to teach for awhile, but I always loved law enforcement.
It’s fun because you can move around. It’s not confining and there’s a lot of variety, every day. You never know what you’re going to get. I started with the sheriff and worked for Blanding City for three years as chief of police before coming back here.
Q: What is your day-to-day like? What does a sheriff do?
A: Just these first three weeks, my head’s been spinning. There’s a lot to learn.
I worked in the jail in Sevier County, but as a sheriff, one thing you’re over is the jail. I’ve been going to jail meetings, meeting jail staff, meeting therapists, and learning about all the programs that are offered to inmates.
I went to the Sheriff’s Association Meeting in Salt Lake County [January 30]. There’s been a big learning curve. As a sheriff, there are a lot of responsibilities.
Q: What is working well in San Juan County law enforcement?
A: All the deputies do a great job; they do a great service for the community. And we also a do a good job of working with the other agencies.
I think everyone gets along well. I think it’s important that we work well with all the law enforcement agencies in the county. If something happens, it’s good to work together.
Q: What challenges does San Juan County law enforcement face?
A: A big challenge we have is the overall size of the county. It’s challenging because we only have so many patrol guys, but something could happen in Lake Powell one day and then up near Moab the next, so just covering everything. There are other issues we’re working on.
Q: What would you like to strengthen? Are there any significant changes in the future?
A: One of my goals when I ran for sheriff is to get deputies out into the back country a little bit more. I’ve even thought about somehow getting deputies at Lake Powell during holiday weekends and up on the mountains.
We have a task force trailer and some other resources we could station up there and then have a deputy for that busy weekend where there’s a lot of people.
We’ve always done that with the Jeep Jamboree; we’ve always had more enforcement, more presence. I think we need to do that in the other areas of the county as well, especially during the holidays.
Q: What are your goals for this year? For the whole department?
A: I want to continue to hire good people who love San Juan County and want to be here, who want to make this the best place to live and a good, safe place for their families. To get the deputies in the backcountry patrolling. To continue to have good training for the deputies.
Q: When it’s time to turn over the reins, what do you hope to have accomplished? What do you hope people will say about you and San Juan County?
A: A personal goal of mine is whatever job I take on is work hard and to leave it better than I found it. I have big shoes to fill.
I just hope that one thing I remember as the sheriff – it’s not my position. The sheriff answers to the people of San Juan County. That I did my best for the citizens of the county. Whoever has it represents the people who put him here.
Q: How do you assist the Navajo Nation law enforcement officers? What’s the cross-deputization process like?
A: We’re kind of in limbo on that right now. The process on cross-deputization – I was here before when we did that. We did 16 hours of training and took the test. We all went to Window Rock and got sworn in with the judge down there. After that, they gave us a cross-commission card, and we were cross-commissioned.
I just did some research on the paperwork and it was only good for five years. For the majority of officers it expired last summer. Right now we only have two officers that did it in 2016 and are still current.
Q: Is the Navajo Nation supportive of it?
A: They’re supportive of us backing them up. We just had a meeting in Bluff this last week. I met with the new chief of police and all their command staff. They don’t want us to do their job for them; it’s just to help them when they need it.
There are some issues with the reservation because that’s not our jurisdiction. With the cities, they’re in the county and we can go help them easier, where on the reservation it is not our jurisdiction.
So right now, in limbo with cross-commission, we don’t have any jurisdiction down there. We’re working with the new chief to see what’s going to happen there. That is a challenging issue because we want to help out but that’s not our jurisdiction.
Q: How can the average citizen support law enforcement efforts in San Juan County?
A: The main thing is be eyes and ears for us. We can’t be everywhere, so if someone sees something, I hope they feel that they can trust us enough to report it.
There’s that saying, “If you see something, say something.” We’re going to be serious about it, take it, and do something with it.
We are part of the community, so we want to have a good partnership with communities and citizens. I think that’s what makes law enforcement better is when you have that partnership and that trust.
You kind of see in the media, law enforcement gets beat up and there’s some trust issues, but I feel good support here in San Juan County. I think that’s a good partnership to have.