It's no secret that Salt Lake police are sick of not getting pay increases.
For months, officers have been publicly saying they're sick of the shortage of manpower. And they're sick of the budget ax, which has fallen on programs, such as the highly esteemed Crime Analysis Unit.The sickness may worsen next week, degenerating into a malady known as "the blue flu," which is a police force's way of going on strike: The officers conspire to call in sick for 24 hours during a certain time.
Sources said earlier this week that many of the department's 290 officers are planning to call in sick on July 1, the day of the new fiscal year and the day before the 4th of July weekend, which is traditionally a busy one for the police department.
The "flu," however, could start anytime. Should it occur, the strike would be the first in about 9 years. Officers in July 1979 called in sick to protest then-Mayor Ted Wilson's support of a lower-than-expected pay raise.
Rumors of the latest " flu" have been circulating for several weeks, ever since someone in the mayor's office announced that the mayor is no longer going to negotiate with the police.
On Wednesday, however, Mayor Palmer DePaulis met with executive members of the Salt Lake Police Association to say, essentially, that the "door is still open" to contract negotiations.
"He's going to open the books for us to see if anything's available," said Officer Rob Reese, vice president of the police association.
The mayor said he is aware of the blue flu rumors. "It's out of our control. The union does not sanction these things. The (olice) are frustrated and some of them are acting on their own."
DePaulis said he understands the officers' frustration, adding, however, that there just isn't any money left in the city budget.
"You know they're serious . . . when (hey) use their own sick time," DePaulis said.
Though a blue flu is still uncertain, especially in light of the recent dialogue with the mayor's office, the rumors have been sufficient to prompt Acting Police Chief Ed
Johnson to send all officers a memo reminding them of their duty.
"This administration does not, repeat DOES NOT, condone actions in conflict with the Police Department Rules and Regulations, (uch as) blue flu, strikes, etc.
"The citizens of Salt Lake City have come to rely upon the integrity of their police personnel. Conduct yourselves accordingly."
Police Maj. Sam Leaver said citizens should not be alarmed and criminals not encouraged by the possibility of a strike.
"We're going to take care of this community, regardless of the strike," Leaver said.
Sergeants, detectives, lieutenants and captains will be called in to fill any shifts vacated by patrol officers stricken with the "flu," he said. "We've got all kinds of contingency plans set up, based upon our needs." Already, vacations for commanders have been canceled to prepare for a possible blue flu.
The police association met Thursday to discuss the rumors of the "flu." Association executives informed its members that the union is prohibited from condoning or organizing a blue flu.
But many officers met unofficially afterward to discuss it, and the idea was met with a good amount of support, sources said.