The cops are taking a beating.
Eighteen cases of assault on a peace officer have been reported in Salt Lake City since June 1. That's more than double the number of assaults on officers reported during the same period last year, according to statistics.Many officers are blaming it on low manpower and increased populations of transients. There is also some evidence that youth gang members immigrating from other states may be a factor.
The bad guys, officers say, are becoming more brazen because they know cops on the street are few and far between.
During the past few weeks, police reports have been peppered with incidents of physical abuse of officers:
* July 26 - Officer Terry Morgan suffered a broken hand while trying to arrest a burglary suspect. Officer David Hendricks was struck several times in the face.
* July 29 - Hendricks shot a pit bull terrier that was set loose on him by the dog's owner, who has since been charged with felony assault in connection with the attack. After the dog was shot, the suspect and his brother allegedly punched Hendricks and an assisting officer.
* Aug. 1 _ A parole officer shot and wounded a man who had just struck him and his partner near a motel on South Main Street.
* Aug. 6 _ While trying to break up a fight, Officer George Spargen was punched and kicked. That same day, in an unrelated incident, Officer David Aylor was kicked several times in the shin by a belligerent suspect.
* Aug. 8 _ While attempting to place a theft suspect into a patrol car, officers Susan Neeley, Byron Hollis and Kelly Kent were pushed, kicked and punched by the suspect.
* Aug. 9 _ Officer Dave Cracroft suffered a bite wound to the right upper arm, and Officer Paul Gardiner sustained a lacerated hand and bruises to the face while arresting a burglary suspect. The suspect told police he has AIDS, which has forced Cracroft to begin AIDS testing and to take precautions against spreading the disease.
* Aug. 10 _ Officer Sandy Urry was punched in the face after a glass of whiskey was thrown in his face by a transient near 300 S. Main. A passer-by had to help Urry subdue the attacker.
* Aug. 15 _ Officer Billy Collier attempted to catch a fleeing burglary suspect, who turned and swung at him, striking him in the forehead and throat.
"It's getting real bad here in Salt Lake," said Morgan, who has been confined to pushing pencils since her hand was broken three weeks ago. "There are more and more bad guys coming to this city." Morgan said some gang members are coming to Utah as a result of crackdowns on gangs in larger cities like Los Angeles.
The recent increase in assaults on officers is disturbing to patrol division Capt. Aaron Kennard, who believes much of the problem can be attributed to diminished manpower, caused by city budget cuts.
Kennard and patrol officers say the low numbers of officers on the street is making it more difficult for them to defend themselves: They tire more easily, and several minutes may pass before backup officers arrive. Further, the officers suggested, the criminal element is aware of the low numbers of patrol officers and of the overcrowded jail. That makes crooks less fearful of resisting arrest and more apt to try to injure an officer so they can escape.
"(The assaults) are of great concern to us because our guys can only be pushed so far for so long," said Kennard. The captain, however, praised the officers for exercising restraint, noting that there have not been any increases in complaints of excessive force.
Cracroft said it's to the point where he and several of his colleagues would like to see the Police Department allow the use of electric "stun guns" to assist them in subduing violent suspects.
Prohibited by former Chief Bud Willoughby, the stun gun issue has yet to be raised with recently hired Chief Mike Chabries.