While the division between its administration and patrol officers is a serious problem, the Salt Lake Police Department still has an effective and competent force, according to an independent audit.
John Heiss, of the David M. Griffith auditing firm out of California, presented the 170-page report to the Salt Lake City Council on Thursday night. The public is happy with the department's service, despite the internal problems, he said."I've audited 66 departments and overall, this is one of the better ones," he said. "It has a real impact on the streets."
The $150,000 audit included a telephone survey of 250 Utahns who requested police service between Dec. 1, 1997, and Feb. 3, 1998. Of the callers, 91 percent said they were satisfied with the police service. More than 90 percent said officers were understanding of their problems and courteous.
Most respondents, 77 percent, were satisfied with the response time. Officers arrived within 15 minutes on about 52 percent of calls, according to the report.
The priority of the department is providing the Salt Lake City with good police service, Chief Ruben Ortega said after the meeting.
"We could talk about the little things we could do - like increase communication - but the bottom line is the citizens . . . and they're satisfied," Ortega said.
The high satisfaction rates are proof that he and department are doing a good job, he said.
But Jill Candland, a representative of the Salt Lake Police Union, says the rank-and-file officers - not management - make the department successful.
"(The numbers) speak highly of the police officers," she said. "We love our jobs and will continue to do them well, despite our conceptions of bad working conditions in that department."
Patrol officers have harsh criticisms of management in several areas, the study found:
- About 84 percent of officers say they can't raise a disciplinary issue that involves a supervisor without retaliation of some sort.
- Some 80 percent say different standards of conduct are applied to management and patrol officers.
- Supervisors and management are given more opportunities for promotions and assignments, 58 percent of the patrol officers said.
"He's accountable for the morale at that department and too much time has gone on without addressing the issue," Candland said of Ortega. "He's going to have to step up and take responsibility as police chief."
The friction between the administration and duty officers doesn't appear as if it will change soon - unless the two sides start negotiating, Hiess said.
"I think it's a real shame," he said, "because it detracts from what this department has done and where it's going."
Ortega ignores requests from the union to discuss the issues, Candland said.
Management notifies the union of administrative changes and wants to work with it regarding its complaints, Ortega said.
That issue aside, the audit explored other steps the department could take to improve.
Because of understaffing, regular patrol officers don't have time to interact with residents in their beat areas. That won't change until the department hires 34 new officers, which could cost about $2 million a year.
Or instead, the department could restructure its schedule so shifts would overlap at a cost of about $500,000. That would solve the problem.
Ending a policy that allows officers to drive squad cars home would save the department about $1 million a year, the audit states. The policy was implemented to increase the police presence in Salt Lake City by adding more squad cars on the roads.
The policy doesn't work because nearly 75 percent of officers commute from other cities, according to the audit. The cars aren't really driven on Salt Lake streets. Ortega said the department may have to change the policy.
The Salt Lake City Council periodically audits its agencies. It was the police department's turn, according to the council.