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After going without pay raises for three years and seeing their ranks dwindle, demoralized Salt Lake City police deserve plenty of sympathy.

Unhappily, the lawmen forfeited much of that sympathy this weekend when they staged a strike by calling in "sick" en mass, a job action known as "blue flu."Despite the brevity of the 24-hour work stoppage, it was still ill-advised. The officers not only put their own interests ahead of their duty to protect the public. They also displayed poor judgment, insulted the public's intelligence, and embraced a double standard.

The pretext of mass illness is as shabby as it is insultingly shallow. When dealing with others, these lawmen properly demand the full, unvarnished truth. Yet they seem to have no qualms about engaging in a shamelessly transparent sham called "blue flu." That puts them in the indefensible position of demanding one standard of conduct from the public and an altogether different standard for themselves.

Though the officers claim this tactic won't endanger the public, they use it to protest manpower reductions that they insist hurt the fight against crime. The lawmen can't have it both ways. If the public is hurt by manpower reductions caused by budget restrictions, it is also hurt by manpower reductions caused by police strikes.

By all means, Salt Lake City police are right in seeking more pay and more manpower. But by resorting to this misguided method of pursuing those objectives, the officers have hurt themselves as well as the public.