FARMINGTON - Davis County residents sometimes think that violent crimes, like the murder-suicide of the mother and her two daughters in Syracuse on Jan. 14, are something rather new in the history of the county.
“Those deaths seemed so new, like we’d never seen such violence before,” said Davis County Sheriff Sgt. Susan Poulsen.
But examining Davis County crime through the decades shows they are nothing new.
In the 1920s, the Davis County Sheriff’s Office investigated a case in which a man killed his wife, mother and stepfather, Poulsen said.
Crimes really haven’t changed that much through the decades and the motivation has remained pretty consistent, she said.
“Most of the time crimes like these are of the domestic type,” Poulsen said. “Emotions run high with domestic incidents.”
The Davis County Sheriff’s Office is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. Through the decades the sheriff’s department has grown, the jail and sheriff’s office have moved and been modernized and tools deputies use today to fight crime are much more advanced.
Davis County Chief Deputy Kevin Fielding looks at the four jails the office has used in its history and the improvements that have been made, benefitting both employees and inmates.
“The designs are so much different,” he said. “Those early jails were all bars and steel doors.”
When the current jail was built in 1991, the doors became glass and were run electronically, he said.
“It was noisy,” Fielding said.
When the jail was remodeled in 2007 the system became pneumatic, making it all much quieter for inmates and staff.
Other more important things, haven’t changed with time, Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson said.
“The core values of the office, those rich values we hold to serve the public have not changed,” Richardson said. “The technology we use has changed - the vehicles, computers, the weapons we use now are different, but our core values are the same.”
Richardson sees a connection with the sheriffs and deputies who served the county in the past.
“We’re doing this (celebrating the anniversary) out of respect for those who worked here in the past,” Richardson said. “To set a future course, we must look at the rich tradition set by officers in the past.”
The county’s first sheriff was Lot Smith, appointed a year after the Territorial Legislature designated Farmington as Davis County’s seat, according to a history of the department on the county’s website. The first jail, with three cells, was erected on the courthouse grounds.
Some of the crimes committed when the sheriff’s office was new are rare today, like a report of a horse stolen in 1911, but other crimes like robbery are nothing new. And sometimes, those examining past and present crimes find unexpected connections.
One May 5, 1911, William Lavender, a security guard at a Layton bank was making his rounds just after 2 a.m. when he spotted “two or three fellows” in the bank, according to a Clipper article that ran at the time.
Lavender discharged his weapon to attract attention, and the suspects ran, leaving behind a pint and a half of nitroglycerin they were planning to blow the safe up with. Lavender was shot through the neck and the suspects tore their clothing as they went over a barbed-wire fence while fleeing.
The suspects got away, but in July 1911, Davis County Sheriff Fred Harris trailed them to Idaho, using clues he gathered from the cloth he found on the fence.
Harris found his suspects and extracted a confession from them.
“That William Lavender was Kenny (retired Captain Kenneth) Payne’s grandfather,” Poulsen said.
“Kenny made a lifelong career of tracking bad guys both in law enforcement and as the county’s medical examiner,” Poulsen said. Payne served in that capacity for 37 years.
A two-day open house is being planned to give the public the opportunity to see photos and equipment used in the past and that being used today.