This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City's police union declared an impasse with the city's negotiating team on Tuesday as about 50 officers or roughly 1 in 10 on the payroll attended a City Council hearing on the mayor's proposed budget.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski budgeted for a 1 percent pay increase for union-represented police officers, compared to the 4.5 percent the union requested. Salt Lake Police Association President Steve Hartney said via email that it's the second time in the past 20 years that the union has declared an impasse.
City spokesman Matthew Rojas said that if the city saw that it was underpaying public safety employees, "that's something we would want to address. That's not what the data is telling us."
"This is probably the most emotional part of the budget for the mayor and everybody involved, but we have to use the data to kind of drive the decision," he said.
More than a dozen officers addressed the City Council about the challenges of policing and their feeling that Salt Lake City is becoming a less attractive destination for experienced officers.
"We are sick of being told 'next year,' " said Officer Chad Smith, who said Biskupski "has become an anti-labor candidate."
Detective Tiffany Seyes, who attended with her Salt Lake City police detective husband and their three children, said officers are "the only employees that truly have to worry whether or not we're going to come home alive at the end of our shift."
Officer Uppsen Downes asked if he could break protocol during his two-minute comment period.
Downes left the lectern and slowly walked in a circle, behind the backs of the seven council members before returning to the microphone.
"That's the type of thing we deal with on the street," Downes said. "People don't follow the rules. How did that make you feel, in this controlled environment, also knowing that I'm a police officer?"
The Salt Lake Police Association wrote in a formal letter to the City Council that the city hasn't budged in negotiations and is in violation of a memorandum of understanding to "negotiate in good faith."
The mayor's office says police wages are significantly above local market value. Two recent surveys put Salt Lake City's median officer salary ($66,000) at between 127 percent and 134 percent of the market. Average salary ($61,000) is between 117 percent and 128 percent.
The union argues that the midway point between starting wages and topped-out wages is a fairer comparison than averages or medians because newer agencies have a smaller proportion of longtime officers, making their wages appear to be lower than they actually are.
By that midpoint measure, it says, Salt Lake City is worse off than many state peers because its $38,000 minimum salary is at the low end.
The city quotes a median salary of $66,000 that is the same as its "topped-out" salary because more than half of city officers have been with the department for eight years and received the city's five scheduled pay increases.
None among 13 other cities included in a statewide comparison reports a median salary equal to its "topped-out" salary.
Officer Tyler Tomlinson told the council Tuesday that Salt Lake City is struggling to attract officers from other police agencies, and that without those lateral hires, "We're losing that valuable experience."
The union also points to a consultant's 2016 comparison to comparable cities nationwide that found Salt Lake City's officer pay was at 88 percent of average higher than St. Louis; New Orleans; and Albuquerque, N.M., among others, but lower than Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas; Denver; or Seattle.
Factoring in cost of living, Salt Lake City's officer pay is 98 percent of average.
Rojas said the city also has yet to reach agreements with the fire and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee unions.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown declined to comment on the negotiations.
Tuesday's public hearing was the third and final on a 2017-18 budget that includes a 30 percent increase to sewer rates, a 5 percent increase to water rates and a property tax increase for city libraries.
The City Council is expected to approve a budget at its June 13 meeting.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correctly spell the name of Officer Uppsen Downes.