Salt Lake police officers are extremely frustrated about their working conditions but are remaining dedicated to the job and happy to serve, said newly appointed Police Chief Mike Chabries.
Speaking at a Salt Lake Kiwanis Club luncheon Thursday, Chabries painted a dark picture of a police officer's life on the beat, but promised that he is seeking to change it."We are going to try to do a better job than before," said Chabries, who praised his department as one of the most professional, efficient and effective units of its size in the country.
The biggest single factor contributing to the officers' hard times is reduced manpower.
In 1982, Chabries said, there were 362 officers handling 115,000 calls for service per year.
Now, because of budget cuts and an ever-increasing crime rate, there are fewer than 300 officers responding to about 140,000 calls per year.
"That means when you call a police officer, he isn't going to be on your doorstep within a few minutes."
And that bothers not only the caller but the officers, too. "They don't like being late. It's frustrating for them."
Chabries cited two other problems that frustrated the officers and contributed to the "blue flu" strike on July 1:
- Much-anticipated salary increases were not given this year.
- Drunks and trouble-causing transients continue to plague the city's west side. The problem of controlling vagrants is exacerbated by refusal of the jail to accept drunks and by the oft-overcrowded detoxification centers.
But manpower, the chief said, is the No. 1 concern.
Chabries said a patrolman told him recently that in a three-week period, the officer was able to spend only four hours doing pro-active police work. All the other time was spent responding to calls, most of which were backlogged up to two hours. The officer said it's so busy out there that he is able to go to lunch only about 60 percent of the time.
But, Chabries said, the officer remained proud and vowed to continue working the extra load, if necessary. "(The officers) will bust their backs to back each other up," Chabries said.
He said he will reorganize the administrative approach to the police department, making it more responsive to its employees and more goal-oriented.
"We're going to build this department and manage it around values."
And he promised to deal heavy-handedly with drug pushers and other career criminals who try to make Salt Lake City their place of business. "I want everyone to know that Mike Chabries is going to be tough on crime."