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Utah’s 1st Hispanic Sheriff Girds for the Challenges Ahead

DENVER – Rosie Rivera, who since last August has been Utah’s first Hispanic sheriff, is girding for two more big challenges: serving as a model for future Latino leaders and withstanding at the polls the men determined to replace her.

Rivera, 55, is well aware that her election as sheriff of Utah’s largest police district was “historic,” and also aware that her responsibilities don’t end there.

For the first time a woman supervises the 2,000 police of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake.

“My election shows that we Latinos must stick together and help each other, have each other’s back, inspire one another,” Rivera told EFE in a telephone interview.

“It takes a lot of money to reach elected office, and that’s why all the help received is so important. I feel honored and thankful for getting all that help,” said Rivera, who took over the position vacated by former Sheriff Jim Winder last May.

Rivera has been at center stage of “historic events” so often that for her, hearing the phrase “the first woman in Salt Lake County who...” is nothing new.

In fact, she was the first woman to become chief of a police precinct (Riverton) in that county, and the first to be included in the Utah capital’s Metro Gang Unit.

Her priority, she said, is public safety, defined as “helping everyone stay safe.” In this case, “everyone” refers to the 1.1 million residents of Salt Lake County, a third of the Utah population.

The enormity of that task is made easier, the sheriff said, by two inseparable factors: her experience and her family.

During her career, Rivera has held several positions in the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake, such as spokeswoman for that district and chief investigator of violent crimes and sexual assaults.

In that process she has faced some truly desperate social scourges including homelessness, widespread opioid addiction, domestic violence and overcrowded prisons. Even before coming to Salt Lake City, she worked as a police officer in other cities.

According to Rivera, that experience earned her the support of her colleagues, which in turn won her 70 percent of the vote last Aug. 12 when the Democrats of Salt Lake County elected their candidate for sheriff.

Several days later, the local municipal council officially elected Rivera.

That experience also allowed her to build a close relationship with the community and establish contacts with local and state leaders as part of the plan that she herself imagined when she was 15, the age at which she had her first child, so that one day she could become a sheriff.

But to start her police career, Rivera had to wait 16 more years, until 1993, when she was 31 years old.

“My family always backed me up, as did some of my colleagues at work,” she said.

“Any of us can become a leader. But to do so, you have to work very hard and very diligently, and then work even harder. And then you’re transformed into an example, a model for others. That is my current responsibility,” she said.


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