Bill O’Neal, the police chief of Sandy City, Utah, who was praised for his innovative ideas when he took charge in 2018, has died suddenly, the Sandy City Police Department confirmed on its Facebook page.
He served as a police officer in Sandy for two decades before becoming chief.
The tragic message was posted late in the evening of January 12, 2020. “Sandy – Passing of Sandy City Police Chief William ‘Bill’ O’Neal,” it was headlined. A cause of death for Bill O’Neal was not given.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Police Department Says Chief O’Neal Died Sunday Afternoon, Announcing the News With a ‘Heavy Heart’
The police statement was emotional but straight to the point.
“It is with heavy heart and deep regret to inform you of the untimely passing of Chief William (Bill) O’Neal. Chief O’Neal passed away at 4:30 p.m. on January 12, 2019,” the statement said (they meant 2020, though). “Information regarding the details of the services will be forthcoming. Please keep Chief O’Neal and his family in your thoughts and prayers. Deputy Chief Greg Severson will be acting as interim Chief.”
O’Neal had taken over as chief after the previous chief was fired.
2. People Offered Tributes to O’Neal, Calling Him a ‘Good Man’
People began filling the police department’s comment thread despite the late hour. “He was such a good man who will be missed by all who knew him. Love to his family and all those who served with Chief O’Neal,” wrote one.
“Such devastating news. He will be missed by all who knew him,” wrote another.
“So very sad! He was my brother Jason’s partner way back! Rest In Peace sir!” another woman wrote.
“I’m in shock! RIP Chief,” wrote a man.
West Jordan Police tweeted, “Such sad news. You will be missed Chief. Our condolences to @Sandy_Police @sandycityutah as well as Chief’s friends and loved ones.”
3. O’Neal Had Been Sandy’s Chief Since 2018 But Was on the Force for Decades Before That
Back in 2018, the police shared a collage of photos of O’Neal’s swearing in. They wrote: “Congratulations to our new Chief of Police, Bill O’Neal, on your swearing in today. We look forward to working with you, and your leadership in this department.”
According to Gephardt Daily, O’Neal had served Sandy City as a police officer for over 20 years before becoming police chief, holding a variety of positions on the force.
Mayor Kurt Bradburn said at the time, according to the publication, “During the interview process, Chief O’Neal stood out for his innovative and forward-thinking ideas. He exemplified great leadership and has risen to the challenges placed on him as the Interim Police Chief.”
4. O’Neal Once Said He Wanted to Make a Difference in People’s Lives
When he was chosen as chief, O’Neal told the Sandy Journal that making a difference to average people was the most important thing to him as a police officer.
“Being there to save someone’s life is a great thing. But also making a difference in someone’s life is what reminds me that it’s all worth it,” said O’Neal then to the newspaper.
“You run into people years later and they say, ‘Hey, you may not realize it, but you really helped me and changed the path I was on,’ those are just as rewarding, if not more.” He said that he wanted to refocus the police department on a community-oriented approach.
5. O’Neal Was Raised in a Military Family
O’Neal’s father was a Navy man, so the family moved a lot before settling in Utah, according to the Sandy Journal. He told the newspaper that his parents instilled in him the values needed to be a police officer.
“They instilled in me from the time I was very young that serving your country and community is the most important thing you can do. It’s a right we’re given but it’s also our duty as an American to give back,” he said to Sandy Journal.
In 2016, when he was named deputy chief, O’Neal was sworn in with his three children, Hunter, Brian and Kalle, at his side. You can see touching photos from that moment here.