Some new Salt Lake police officers are paid so little that they are eligible for food stamps and other government-subsidized programs, said the president of the Salt Lake Police Union.

Officer David Greer says that such a pay disparity is an indication that the city is not giving its police force the priority that it should. Negotiations are under way between the police department and Salt Lake City. The talks will continue on April 29.Greer said the starting salary for Salt Lake police is well below what most other Utah cities pay their officers. New officers start at $1,529 per month in Salt Lake City compared to $1,960 in Orem and $1,824 in Salt Lake County. At least 12 other major Utah cities start their officers at a higher scale, he said.

"Yet Salt Lake City has the highest rate of violent crime that our officers are involved with than any other agency in the state," said Greer.

In 1985, Salt Lake officers were at the top of the state's pay scale. Since then, however, the starting salary has not changed and experienced officers have received only two raises. It would take a 22-percent increase to boost the salary levels back to that point.

"We're not insensitive to economic realities," he said. "But I think our salary packages ought to be based on some norms."

Although police candidates continue to test for jobs at the department, Greer said many are taking jobs in other cities because of the pay difference.

"With this pay scale it's especially hard to keep good, qualified police officers, especially in this time of increased public scrutiny," he said. "And when we're making a salary that qualifies us for state assistance, there's a problem."

A married Salt Lake officer with five children can qualify for food stamps under the current salary scale and would also qualify for government help to pay utility bills. A married officer with four children qualifies for child-care services.

"That reflects that (Salt Lake City) does not want to get a mature stable family guy as a police officer."

Greer said low pay can sometimes translate into fatigue for officers on the street. "All of them work second and third jobs to make ends meet."

He said officers watch the city manage other portions of the budget without problems. "When they begin crying poverty, the police officers just don't buy it because they don't see the poverty," he said.