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UNION LEADER, ORTEGA CLASH OVER MORALE AND DISCIPLINE OF OFFICERS

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Sparks are flying at the Salt Lake Police Department.

The union president says the police chief is driving the officers' morale way down, particularly by intruding into their private lives and meting out "arbitrary and capricious discipline."But Police Chief Ruben Ortega says he's confused by the allegations and believes they stem from a long-standing personal dispute.

"The complaints of my management style, that morale is low . . . that's the first time I've heard them," the chief said Friday.

"All this is very disappointing to me, not because he is complaining about me, but I'm disappointed because of all the things the mayor and I have worked so hard for, for the officers."

But David Greer, president of the Salt Lake Police Association, said he gets "non-stop" complaints from officers about Ortega's management style.

"I couldn't even begin to count the number of guys who've complained," he said. "They hate to be here even though they love doing their jobs."

On Tuesday, union brass will meet to finalize a petition to complain about Ortega's management style and to affirm the union board's authority to speak on behalf of its 272 members.

Greer, the union's president for the past six years, said the petition comes in response to a May meeting with Ortega where Greer says he was told he's out of touch with his members.

The petition is meant to show Ortega that the union membership does, in fact, stand behind Greer and the other board members in the issues they've been raising.

Ortega points to several accomplishments that benefit his officers, including a recent 17 percent salary increase, increased uniform allowance, upgrade of officers' weapons, new vests, $3 million earmarked for new computers for police vehicles, a mobile command post and a new physical fitness facility.

The chief said he has also obtained money to hire 17 new officers and has spent substantial time lobbying for the crime bill, which would have given the city up to 50 more cops.

"It's no small feat, all of these things, because money is in short supply," Ortega said. "If he's right (about morale), I don't know what else I can do to make them happy and still do my job for the citizens of Salt Lake City."

Greer counters that the chief is taking credit where credit isn't due. "We negotiated those pay increases. All he did was indicate to the mayor he was in favor of it, that it was fair."

While technology is nice, Greer said the point is that officers are often treated poorly.

A new department policy has been used to discipline officers for off-duty conduct that is "unbecoming an officer." Greer said the policy is far too vague and overencompassing.

"They say it's a universal conduct you're presumed to know," he said. "They use it as a blanket policy to discipline someone who's done something they're embarrassed about . . . even though their conduct may not have violated any rule or law."

Greer points to the case of officer Louis Jones. In November, Jones threatened to crash his marked police car into the home of a former dispatcher. Ortega said the woman had just cut off their extramarital relationship and Jones was infuriated.

Jones also used police equipment to determine who owned the car parked at the woman's house and attempted to kill himself later that evening. Ortega allowed him to return to work for four months, then fired him after a Citizen Review Board recommended ter-min-a-tion.

The Civil Service Commission recently overturned Ortega's recommendation - only the second time a firing has been overruled in more than 70 years, according to Greer.

Ortega said he was shocked at the reversal and will likely appeal the decision. "I've seen terminations upheld for much less than this," the chief said. "His (Jones') conduct was outrageous!"

Greer said Jones' conduct warrants discipline but not termination, particularly because Ortega had the confidence in Jones to allow him to return to the street for four months. Jones' supervisor had recommended a 30-day suspension.

Another officer was suspended for five days for violating the department's pursuit policy. Ortega said he began a chase after a minor traffic offense that resulted in the death of a Millcreek man who crashed.

"I hold the suspect that died responsible for his death. It was his decision to run from the law," the chief said. But he said the officer should have followed police procedure and that may have prevented the death. Now a lawsuit has been filed against the city.

The union is appealing that suspension. Greer said the officer's supervisors who approved the pursuit were either not disciplined or received only a written reprimand. Three of the suspended days were for the pursuit policy and two days were for his "bad attitude," according to Greer.

"You see? Now we're getting disciplined for bad attitudes."

The union is also appealing a four-day suspension of an officer who injured a violent prisoner at the jail. Two review boards said the injuries were unintentional and recommended only reprimands, but Ortega disagreed.

The union is also filing an appeal of a 30-day suspension another officer received because he was working off duty for two different companies at the same time. Greer said only one hour overlapped on the security jobs and no department rules were violated. Ortega says the officer's actions reflected poorly on the department, which gives the officer the authority to obtain the part-time job anyway.

Ortega said he believes officers' private lives are just that. But when their actions put the department in a legal risk of liability, he has a responsibility to step in and protect the taxpayers.

"David Greer feels these officers can just about do anything they want when they're off duty," he said.

"From the day I got here, David Greer has done nothing but whine and complain and moan about discipline," the chief continued.

He believes Greer has never forgiven him for taking away his paid status as full-time union president and giving him a caseload of crimes to solve.

Greer strongly denies any personal vendetta but said the chief has disregarded the union as a resource or a credible organization since he was hired.

"I'm the first one he came after when he got here, yet I'm the one that gave his name to the mayor (to consider hiring). Now I feel it's my fault," Greer said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini said Ortega has her total support with any decisions made within the department.

"Chief Ortega has done phenomenal things with the department," Corradini said. "I think Ruben is a fantastic chief. There are always going to be differences between unions and management, and you are always going to be able to find dissenters."

The union president hopes the petition will encourage Ortega to reconsider the way he handles some things.

Greer said after Tuesday's meeting, union board members will contact each union member and give them the chance to sign the petition. After all officers have had a chance to sign, union leaders will ask Ortega to meet with them again.

"We'll ask him to start working cooperatively with us to get these problems solved. We're just frustrated. We wouldn't be going public with these things, if we could have gotten them solved internally," Greer said.

"We're still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," he said. "And hopefully, give him the chance to work with us - not against us."

Ortega said that regardless of the vote, "It will not deter me from the path we've laid out to take the department forward."

But the chief said he will still meet with the union to try to resolve their differences.