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After debating and studying for five months whether the Utah Transit Authority should abolish its police department, UTA board members now want to hire a consultant to help answer that question.

The UTA Finance & Operations Committee unanimously endorsed that recommendation Wednesday, and sent it to the full UTA board for a vote expected later this month.

Board member Troy Walker — a Draper City Council member and mayoral candidate who started the debate in April —┬ámade the motion to hire a consultant who would answer directly to the board, saying that could give it unbiased information about policing models used by other transit agencies.

"I'd like to look at the cost. I'd like to look at the models of how other agencies do it. Maybe we could come up with a unique model," he said. "My fundamental question is why we are in the [policing] business to begin with and are not pushing it down to municipalities" to police UTA bus and rail lines in their cities.

That action comes a month after UTA staff produced its own 470-page report looking at how other transit agencies handle policing. It concluded that abolishing the 11-year-old UTA Police would cost more than it would save. That report was presented to the board by UTA Chief Safety Officer Dave Goeres, who also oversees UTA Police.

That report last month said UTA has the seventh lowest cost per police employee — $70,730 — out of 29 transit agencies that provided data on that question. It said UTA spent the 11th lowest percentage of its operation budget for public safety — 3.1 percent — out of 31 agencies that provided data on that.

The UTA survey found that 53 percent of transit agencies operate their own police departments, as does UTA. Another 35 percent contract with a police or security agency, and 12 percent have a hybrid situation where they have internal supervisors who oversee contract officers.

UTA has 60 sworn police officers, plus 18 security officers (who handle security on railways and buildings) and four administrators. Its annual budget is now $5.8 million.

Walker has argued that it may not only save money for UTA to get out of conducting its own police services, but may reduce liability and improve customer relations. He said joining with a larger agency, for example, could improve training, improve cost-of-scale for purchases of vehicles and equipment, and leave UTA employees to focus on customer service.