Officer Dennis Nelson strolls up and down Second East, toting a sign outside the festivities at the Salt Lake City-County Building dedication protesting the city's wage offer.

He's not thrilled about walking the street on a Friday night. But he has a point to make.The more than 40 picketing officers, wives and children wanted to get their message across to the 500 people attending the dinner and dance celebrating the $30 million renovation of the sandstone building. The pickets were out again Saturday.

"Pay the Police as Though Your Life Depends On It."

"To Protect To Serve To Starve."

"I nearly died trying to protect the people of this city," said Nelson, who in 1972 was critically injured in a shoot out. "It's just amazing that they can pay a city negotiator to negotiate with the unions for two months $18,000."

"That's one year's salary for a beginning cop," said officer Ralph Evans.

"Their priorities are screwed up," said Nelson.

The city offered a 2 percent cost-of-living allowance and about a 2 percent merit increase. But in the past four years while officers went without a cost-of-living adjustment, the cost of living has increased 14 percent. And merit raises have been frozen for two years.

"I've given the city 100 percent over the last four years, and the city offers me 2 percent," said Evans, a patrol officer on the northeast side.

The 2 percent will just about cover the increased insurance premiums, said Dave Greer, police union president. And no mechanisms are in place to make up for lost ground.

"It's not just the money. The city (officials) can do anything they want because they're in power," said a three-year veteran of Salt Lake and a 10-year cop.

"They never took care of us. They never took care of anybody," said an officer who has spent nine years in law enforcement. "Everything goes up - larceny's up, homicide's up. Our manpower goes down. You can only get dogged so many times."

Salt Lake ranks first in the number of larcenies per 10,000 population - 10,000.The department was down to 287 cops, 100 fewer than a decade ago, last summer.

"It's the mayor who's not taking care of us," said Greer, who last December was elected to head the 200-member union that includes patrol officers, traffic officers and detectives. Officers over the rank of sergeant are considered management and not eligible to join.

Mayor Palmer DePaulis, who has been hosting dedication ceremonies for the renovated City-County building, could not be reached for comment on the picketing. A staff member said he was at the Utah Symphony with the Lord Mayor of London.

The picketing is the latest tactic in a battle that has been raging for years between officers and the mayor's office. Last July 4th weekend, rank-and-file members experienced a bout of "blue flue" to protest the contract the city offered.

The contract was rejected, and both police and firefighters have worked without a contract since June 30, 1988.

A a rash of the "blue flu" is still a possibility, but Greer doesn't want that or the bad publicity.

"The media has characterized us as holding the Olympics hostage," Greer said of the union's plan to send a letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee raising serious questions about protecting the safety of visitors.

Greer has said he is more than happy to send a letter to the USOC saying the police welcome the Olympics and will do everything possible to ensure a safe, enjoyable stay during the 1998 Winter Games Salt Lake seeks to host.

*****

(Chart)

Salary dispute

What police union wants: 4 percent to 6 percent cost-of-living increase and about a 2 percent in merit increases in the current contract now being negotiated.

What Mayor Palmer DePaulis has offered: 2 percent raise with some merit increases, for a total of about 4 percent. The city's offer works out to just over $6 a paycheck for an officer who has been on the force 10 years.