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The Utah Transit Authority operates its own 35-member police force, but the agency is talking with Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder about merging it into the Unified Police Department.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter says that comes as UTA plans to open two new TRAX light rail lines in August and has other rail projects under construction. To handle the extra duties, UTA budgeted to hire another 18 officers later this year — expanding its force by 50 percent.

"So it's a good time for us to review all of our options, and whether there is a way to save money or be more efficient," he said. Carpenter said negotiations are in early stages.

Winder said his office offered five models for the UTA to consider. Some would cost UTA less money than it currently has budgeted for police work. Others would cost the same but offer what he says are enhanced services.

"They range widely but offer some very, very good options for them to consider," Winder said.

He said proposals, if accepted, anticipate that the current UTA police would "come over and merge into the Unified Police" and continue offering transit-oriented enforcement supplemented by other Unified Police officers and resources.

He said the UTA board would still have control over service levels and budget.

Winder said the Legislature gave UTA permission to have police operating throughout its system in six counties, which he says would transfer if the agencies merge. Unified Police already work with 16 jurisdictions, so officers are comfortable working with multiple areas, the sheriff said.

Talks about a merger also come as the UTA is having an independent review done of its police force.

Carpenter said the UTA's current police department, formed five years ago, does everything from helping ensure that riders have paid appropriate fares to investigating break-ins, assaults and other crimes on UTA parking lots, trains and buses. Still, it focuses mostly on rail lines, Carpenter said.

"Last spring, it even broke up a counterfeiting ring, where some people were counterfeiting UTA passes," he said.

The UTA plans to open the new TRAX Mid-Jordan and West Valley light rail lines on Aug. 7. Also under construction is a new TRAX line to the Salt Lake City International Airport, and preparations are being made to extend the current Sandy TRAX line to Draper.

UTA is also building an extension of its FrontRunner commuter rail — which now runs from Ogden to Salt Lake City — to Provo.