St. George City Council appoints interim police chief

St. George Police Department, St. George, Utah, June 6, 2019 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Nearly one week to the day after St. George Chief of Police Richard Farnsworth abruptly retired, the city council has appointed a 21 year veteran of the department as interim chief.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the council appointed Deputy Chief Kyle Whitehead to take over running the day-to-day operations of the police department.

Whitehead has been the deputy chief of police for the past 17 months.

Whitehead was hired in 1999 as a full-time police officer for the St. George Police Department. He rose through the ranks to sergeant in 2005, lieutenant 2007 and captain in 2011, before his appointment as deputy chief of police in 2018.

“We have confidence that Kyle will do a great job in this role,” said Mayor Jon Pike. “He is well-respected in the city and has the skills to meet the challenge.”

Kyle Whitehead, a 21 year veteran of the St. George Police Department, has been appointed as its interim police chief, St. George, Utah, March 5, 2020 | Photo courtesy YouTube feed, St. George News

Whitehead and his wife Misty are the parents to twin 10-year-old girls and a 5-year-old daughter as well.

His family, Whitehead said, is the reason he was standing before the council for the appointment to the position.

“Without their support and their love, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he said.

Showing their support, many police officers attended Whitehead’s appointment as interim police chief, a job that he would like to see made permanent.

“I am honored and very humbled by this opportunity,” Whitehead said. “I really love this city. St. George has been my home for my entire life. I am committed to this.”

Whitehead pledged that during his time as interim chief, he will continue to move the department in a positive direction.

“I commit … that I will do my best,” he said. “I hope that it will be the best to the point that I will be able to become the permanent chief at some point. I love this department. It is the greatest department in the world.”

Born and raised in St. George, Whitehead, 43, said growing up here was a slice of Americana.

“I grew up in the Dixie Downs area,” he said. “Back then, there weren’t a lot of homes there, so my friends and I spent a lot of time riding our bikes out in the dirt, building huts and doing everything you can imagine young boys would enjoy doing.”

In high school, Whitehead knew his aim in life was to be in law enforcement.

“As I got older it was a desire that never went away,” he said. “Being young, it was the thrill of the career that excited me most, but as I got older, I really enjoyed helping people and being a positive influence.”

A St. George Police vehicle at the scene of an accident on S 200 East in St. George, Utah on January 29, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The imprint of becoming a police officer perhaps came from Whitehead’s grandfather who served as Washington County’s sheriff for 16 years beginning in the 1960s.

“When I was a little kid, I remember listening to his stories and how passionate he was,” Whitehead said. “This really stuck with me. This probably had the most influence on me becoming a police officer.”

If given the nod to become the department’s permanent police chief, Whitehead said there is not a lot to tweak and that he would be inheriting a great department, great staff and great officers.

“This department doesn’t need a lot of change as far as its vision for the future,” he said. “I think how we conduct policing in the city that we already have a good relationship with its citizens and elected officials, but my goal would be to make minor adjustments here and there to be more efficient.”

Whitehead does not intend to be a bull in a china shop whether as interim chief or if given the opportunity to serve permanently. He said his goal is to keep St. George a safe community where citizens and visitors can enjoy themselves.

“I think this city is headed in a very good direction,” he added. “Number one is to try and keep on top of crime.”

When asked how does the police department stay proactive with St. George’s population growth, Whitehead’s answer is to continually re-evaluate how they operate.

“Just because something is working well for us right now doesn’t mean in a month or a year it will become ineffective,” Whitehead added. “We have to continually evaluate what is most effective and what does the community expects of us.”

To meet the anticipated growth of St. George, Whitehead said the focus needs to be on appropriate staffing levels in order to be proactive in combating crime.

Several St. George Police officers respond to a report of an armed robbery at a home in the area of Rolling Hills Drive and Windsor Drive, St. George, Utah, July 15, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“But, that doesn’t mean just because we grow we have to hire more officers,” he said. “There are many things in the department with technology changing that maybe we can do differently.”

After significant appreciation from those attending the appointment ceremony Thursday, the mayor, city leadership and city council weighed in on Whitehead’s appointment as interim chief.

“I am very optimistic and excited about some of (Whitehead’s) ideas about the future,” said Councilmember Michele Randall, who introduced the motion for the appointment.

Jimmie Hughes seconded the motion, acknowledging how tough a job it is being a police officer.

“We ask you to do a lot and then go home and put a smile on your face,” Hughes said. “I appreciate what you do for our community, and I mean that.”

The city will conduct a several-month search to fill the chief of police position permanently with Whitehead’s name going into the mix for consideration.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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