Salt Lake City bosses are making a cynical gamble with public safety and have increased police salaries only by "cannibalizing" the force, police union officials said Wednesday.
"This year we say we must have an increase," said Rick Rieke, chief negotiator for the Salt Lake Police Association."In the past few years the number of police officers has been steadily going down. Those officers who remain have been told there is no money for salary increases, so their purchasing power has been steadily going down. When they learned that other city departments have received substantial increases in budget, the police morale has been steadily going down. With each decline, the gamble with public safety becomes increasingly a bad bet."
The police union called a news conference Wednesday after a 60-day negotiating deadline with the city ended.
Police say they have not received a raise for three years and that the department's personnel budget was cut by $50,000 last year.
But city officials say staffing cuts were based on an independent, professional audit of the department.
"We gave them a higher raise than anybody ever got when we negotiated that contract two years ago," said Lance Bateman, city finance director.
Bob Adams, negotiator for the city, said there is plenty of time to reach an agreement before the police contract expires June 30.
"We are still in full negotiations. It would be very unproductive to move the negotiations into the media," Adams said.
The state has mandated the city pick up an additional pension for city police officers this year, so the amount of money budgeted to the police department will increase even if salaries are not raised.
Rieke said police have continued to do a remarkable job despite the lack of city support. The city had 350 officers five years ago while today there only are 300.
"Over the years when there has been a decrease in police officers there has been an increase in the number of major crimes."
Rieke said there are no plans to stage a "blue flu," wherein police officers call in sick en masse rather than strike illegally. State law and city ordinance prohibits civil servants from striking. He said members of the police association will meet Thursday.
"Negotiations have gone bad, and there will not be a contract at this point in time," said Elden Tanner of the Salt Lake Police Association. "The city says they have no money and there is nothing else to talk about. Yes, we are talking about some informational pickets and the like to inform the public of what is going on."
Tanner and Rieke, a professional negotiator hired by the association for the first time this year, wrote a letter to city officials charging the city's salary offer made on the last day of a 60-day negotiation deadline was "so paltry as to merit no serious attention."
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said as long as the city is in the negotiation phase, he doesn't want to make a statement. But he feels there is plenty of time to reach an agreement before the police contract expires June 30.
Adams said money is the only issue stalling contract talks. Agreements have been reached on other issues, such as retirement, injury leave, insurance and shift bidding.