Salt Lake City police want to hire 27 more officers, say Operation Rio Grande is driving the need


In part because of Operation Rio Grande, Salt Lake City Police are seeking to hire 27 new officers in the next year.

Salt Lake City could add 27 new police officers — a 6 percent staffing increase — under a proposal before the City Council for initial review Tuesday.

The new hires, which also include a handful of support and social worker positions, carry a price tag of $5.2 million in the current fiscal year; $1.4 million would come from the department’s operating budget and the rest from reserve or inactive accounts.

The need comes as more officers and department resources have been diverted to carry out Operation Rio Grande, the 3-month-old stepped-up policing and enforcement initiative around The Road Home homeless shelter downtown. The department also is coping with the higher attrition that municipal police forces face nationwide.

“We’ve lost them faster than we can get them currently,” said Christina Judd, a spokeswoman for Police Chief Mike Brown. “It didn’t used to be like that.”

The department currently has 437 authorized city-funded positions, with another 16 funded by grants. Because of turnover rates and the long lag time to hire and train new officers, the department is allowed to run 20 positions over its authorized level, for a total of 473. The new positions would thus bring the overall total to 500. As of Monday, the department had 26 vacancies. The number fluctuates.

The City Council will get its first official look at the administration’s proposal Tuesday. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 28, with a final vote expected Dec. 5.

New officers start at $20 per hour, or roughly $40,000 annually.

Even if the officers are hired in January as planned, it could be September before any of the new hires are trained and ready to hit the streets.

And it isn’t like the city will suddenly seem swathed in uniform blue.

“At a regular job, 27 new hires could be a giant boon to the workplace,” Judd said. “But when you add 27 people to the police department and you have three shifts to cover and two precincts, with multiple beats, that’s not like 27 more people you’re going to see all at one time.”

FBI crime data compiled by Governing magazine and included in a City Council staff memo on the proposed hires show that Salt Lake City’s rate of officers per capita is low among comparable cities, with 13.9 officers per 10,000 residents on weekdays, when commuters swell the city’s population to 315,000.

The rate is 22.4 officers per 10,000 residents at night.