GUNNISON—The new Gunnison Valley police chief says he wants to maintain a “respectful and compassionate” relationship with the community.
Seth Hendrickson became interim chief on Thursday, Dec. 10, when the governing board of the Gunnison Valley Police Department (GVPD) selected him among two other applicants, following former chief Brett McCall’s retirement.
He became the official chief on Friday, Jan. 1. He is just the second to hold the position in the GVPD, which formed in 2017 by merging the Gunnison and Centerfield police agencies.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve our community,” said Hendrickson, who grew up in Gunnison. “I love it here, and I promise to do my best to make our valley a prosperous and safe place for my family and yours.”
Throughout his childhood, he envisioned himself staying in the area for the long term. He grew up two blocks away from his future wife, then named Jessica Jensen, though they would not become close until after he finished college. However, his vision to stay local did not necessarily include working in law enforcement until much later on, when they were married and had a family of four.
The 39-year-old’s road to becoming a patrol officer, then police chief in his hometown began with parents, Hal and Robyn Hendrickson, and grandparents who were also born and raised here. Growing up in town with older siblings Josie, Ryan and Jessica also helped foster his sense of belonging to the area.
Hendrickson comes from a construction family, which profoundly influenced him beginning early in his life. After graduating from Gunnison Valley High School in 2001, he completed an associate’s degree in construction business management at Snow College. He joined as a partner along with his father at Hendrickson Construction in 2003, though he had worked there on a part-time basis consistently since high school.
He worked ten years full-time in construction. This stretch saw great changes in his personal life, starting with marrying Jessica in 2006.
The births of his two children, Sydney in 2008 and Zeke in 2012, coincided with challenging times for small businesses in the area, including the construction company. Though he was still “passionate” about the work he did with his dad, he began to seek a different path with more stability and benefits to support his loved ones.
“A few good health scares and trips to the emergency room persuaded me to consider if what I was doing for a career was the best for my family,” he said.
In considering his options, law enforcement was a front-runner from the outset, in part because he had admired community figures such as former chiefs Blane Jensen and Joell Christensen.
“It was important for me to find something that would provide the possibility for me to stay in our valley,” Hendrickson said, as well as preserve his ability “to still work in construction.”
In January of 2013, the Hendrickson family of four moved temporarily to St. George, where Seth completed six months of Police Officer Standards and Training academy at Dixie State University. He graduated in the top seat in his class the following July.
He was able to come straight back to Sanpete County to work for the sheriff’s office as a patrol deputy officer the day he returned from finishing at the academy. In his role there, figures such as Sheriff Brian Nielsen, Sergeant Jared Buchanan and County Attorney Kevin Daniels were “extremely influential and important in my training and development,” he said.
He explained that working in a smaller department in the rural area came with the responsibility of handling investigations from start to finish as a young officer. This forced him to learn in depth about the legal side of policing in his early days.
When Gunnison and Centerfield combined police departments in 2017 with the aim of providing more efficient and effective policing in the valley, they needed to bring on an additional patrol officer. This caught Hendrickson’s attention as an opportunity to work where he had spent most of his life, and he held that position until being promoted to chief.
“It has been a great experience and I have been fortunate to be involved. I love working for our community,” he said.
In October, the GVPD purchased a drug-sniffing dog, and Hendrickson became its handler. Hendrickson regrets having to forgo the role but said he would not have had time to handle his duties as chief along with the handling the dog.
But he does not plan to let his increase in paperwork keep him in the office all the time. He says he will act as a “working chief,” spending time in the field and with community members, largely because that is what he most enjoys to do as a policeman.
He encouraged people in the valley to consider using his department as a resource in instances of personal conflicts.
“I hope that the community members will look at our department as a place that is comfortable to come to with any issue. We are all human here,” he said.
“We’re excited to see the level that Seth will take the new department to,” said Keith Garff, chairman of the GVPD board. “With the new chief [we] have new opportunities, new vision.”
Garff said the board selected Hendrickson because of his involvement in the community and support they had heard from people within the Gunnison Valley.
Hendrickson said his first objectives as chief have been to fill two vacancies, one for patrol officer that he left in his promotion and another following the resignation of Carl Wimmer, who was the school resource officer. Additionally, he will give focus to ensuring the department budget is balanced and that he and the new officers are up to speed in their new roles.