As patrol officers stricken with the "blue flu" began calling in sick Friday afternoon, Salt Lake Police Lt. Jim Bell sighed and reached for the phone.
"I'd better call my wife . . . tell her I'm not going to be home for awhile."Bell was one of the police department's command officers assigned Friday to shuffle schedules and personnel to cover for the striking rank and file.
Patrol officers were calling in sick to protest Mayor Palmer DePaulis' failure to fund increases in pay and manpower. That type of job action is known as the "blue flu" and generally lasts 24 hours. It is the first since July 1979, when officers called in sick to protest then-Mayor Ted Wilson's support of a lower-than-expected pay raise.
Earlier this week, it was unclear how many officers were going to participate in Friday's job action. But if the first wave of flu casualties is any indication, the strike is going to get a lot of support. Of 32 officers assigned to work the afternoon shift, 28 called in sick, according to patrol sergeants Dennis Tueller and George Kerns.
Lt. Steve Diamond, Friday evening watch commander, said several day-shift patrol officers stayed on duty and detectives were put on the street to cover for officers who called in sick.
Bell and other command-level officers were taking down the addresses of the "sick" officers so that detectives and commanders being assigned to cover can come around and pick up their patrol cars.
Acting Police Chief Ed Johnson said the department is responding well to the strike. "We've got everything covered. There's a lot of folk sick today. We're holding people back and calling people in. We've got everything covered, probably more than normal."
Johnson said he believes the "sick" officers will come back to work if an officer gets hurt or if some other catastrophe puts the community in danger.