Although the Salt Lake Police Department believes its promotion policies are non-discriminatory, the department will implement new rules to avoid the "perception" of partiality, a department official said this week.
The new policy comes on the heels of complaints brought to the city's Civil Service Commission by an attorney representing seven minority police officers who perceived they were unfairly denied promotions by the department."A lot of times perception is reality," attorney Steven Payton told the commission Thursday.
However, the department is trying to eliminate the perception, said Maj. O.J. Peck, adding that despite the perception of discrimination, none actually exists at the department.
A promotional review board formerly staffed by city officials will now be composed of law enforcement officers from throughout the state, Peck said.
Additionally, a merit rating system used for promotions and scored by department supervisors - which Payton called too subjective - will be eliminated, Peck said.
"This will neutralize the perception there is an unholy alliance," he said.
Payton said seven of the 19 Blacks, Hispanics and Asians on the 309-member force came to him to complain they frequently have been passed over for promotions, which ultimately were given to white male and female officers.
Currently, one Hispanic male holds the rank of sergeant and two females hold a lieutenant's rank.
Payton said since he raised the complaints with the commission earlier this year many officers have said they were harassed and now are reluctant to raise the issue publicly.
Some officers received "nasty notes in their lockers," and some officers complained fellow officers are not responding quickly to calls for assistance, Payton said, saying the department's administration is partly responsible.
"Management sets the tone for the department and makes it clear that that won't be tolerated," he said.
Peck, saying there may be a "perception" officers are discriminated against, displayed statistics asserting the perception isn't actually true.
Citing a report compiled in response to the complaints, Peck said the department hires minorities at a higher rate than they are employed elsewhere in Salt Lake County.
Additionally, many positions in the department, such as in the homicide division, do not often have openings. "There aren't that many positions to move into," Peck said.
Payton, however, said his clients are "skeptical" about the effectiveness of the policy changes. Many of the minority officers have seen similar policy changes materialize with little effect.