George Chapman: SLC police deserve a more respectful salary

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Captain Jeff Kendrick of the Salt Lake City Police Department speaks about an incident at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Friday May 17, 2019.

The Salt Lake City Council is going to have a final public hearing on June 4 about the city’s budget. During discussions on the budget, and negotiations with the Salt Lake City Police Association, it appears that the Council will approve the recommended 2% salary increase and a 2% increase in starting wages, along with a 6% increase at 12 years of service for police officers.

A further analysis that includes the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police study and Matrix’s 911 dispatch center audit shows that the proposed police salary increase will not result in the recommended officers for Salt Lake City.

Chief Mike Brown said that the city has 12 authorized and funded vacancies after hiring 80 officers in the last year. The administration is proposing hiring 23 new officers in the next year. Unfortunately, the city has lost, in the last year, about 80 officers to retirement and to other municipalities that are starting their own police forces.

Salt Lake County’s Unified Police Department is proposing a 16% pay increase for their officers in the next year. The IACP study did acknowledge that the city’s police officer retirement rate is double the national average, but attributed the high rate to the 2011 Utah public safety retirement system change.

The IACP study pointed out issues that should indicate a need to hire and retain more officers include a 65% increase in reported sexual offenses, 911 response for Priority 1 calls for Districts 3, 6 and 7 all exceed 11 minutes and for Priority 4 and 5 responses, “there is a consistent pattern of average responses of more than one hour.”

The IACP study recommended “that 133 additional officers should be added to the patrol division,” three more to domestic violence, eight more to property crime, three more to narcotics and three more to robbery/major crimes.

Other recommendations of the IACP study included using SWAT personnel for use in high crime areas; ensure that robbery/major crimes’ caseload remain below 12 cases per month per investigator; use free homicide personnel for clearing DNA backlog; investigate the reason for high number of applicant failures in the selection process; create a Citizens Advisory Council at Chief of Police level; stop requiring a sergeant to confirm a proper arrest, which is not necessary with use of bodycams, and conduct a cost/benefit analysis of expenditures for Operation Rio Grande.

The 911 Audit showed that dispatchers were paid under $16 and hour and that dispatch times to call an officer were very high. The city stopped using PBX operators, as they could not take crime reports (which may have led to many complaints about non-responsiveness on the non-emergency lines that they were answering). The city also has committed to change the system used for the dispatch script to allow for dispatchers to use “common sense.”

Brown said it best when he emphasized that “the mere presence of a police officer discourages crime” (during a discussion on his proposal for using five officers for park rangers).

The most important takeaways from the study and audit is that the efforts of Salt Lake City police officers has reduced reported crime but there are significant deficiencies that require more officers. That requires a higher salary. These are officers who are willing to not just serve and protect but also sacrifice for us. They are willing to take a bullet for us.

Over the last year, the Salt Lake City Council gave themselves a 40% pay raise, justifying it by saying it would attract the best available candidates. It is important that we have a salary that attracts the best available candidates. The Salt Lake City police deserve a more respectful salary increase.

The City Council is set to have its final public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m., June 4, at the City-County Building, 400 South 200 East. I encourage you to comment in person or by email to council.comments@slcgov.com.

George Chapman

George Chapman is a former candidate for SLC mayor and writes a blog at georgechapman.net.