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Members of the Salt Lake police union say Chief Ruben Ortega has launched a campaign to intimidate his officers against signing a petition.

"The officers think it's a clear-cut case of veiled threats," said David Greer, president of the Salt Lake Police Association.The police chief has addressed officers over the past two days during several "lineups," where officers meet together before each shift change. He also met with detectives Monday afternoon.

While Greer did not attend any of the meetings, he said he has spoken with many officers upset with some of the chief's comments.

"The quotes I've heard are, `It wouldn't be in your best interest to sign the petition' and `I would think long and hard before I sign that petition,' " Greer said.

"I think that's reprehensible!"

Detectives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ortega told them he would personally contact each officer who signed the petition to make sure that was their signature.

"I find that to be threatening," one detective said.

"It was nothing more than an intimidating action on his part to let you know he'll be checking on you," another detective said.

Ortega flatly denied any allegations of coercion Tuesday.

"That's not true and beyond saying it's not true, we're not going to comment on this issue," he said, adding that enough attention has been given to the internal dispute.

"The only message given to them is for them to make their own judgments," the chief said.

Greer has accused the chief of driving the officers' morale down, particularly by intruding into their personal lives and meting out "arbitrary and capticious discipline."

Union leaders had announced plans to circulate a petition complaining about Ortega's management style and to affirm the union board's authority to speak on behalf of its 212 members.

The board will meet Tuesday afternoon and had planned to distribute the petition Wednesday. But Greer said they may delay its circulation and will discuss the matter with their attorney.

"What he did constitutes an unfair labor practice," Greer said, explaining that their collective bargaining resolution prohibits the city or its agents to obstruct, intimidate or coerce its employees from exercising their lawful rights.

Officers say that during the meetings, Ortega also discussed morale and many of the accomplishments he has made for the department and on their behalf since becoming chief.

The chief has said he is surprised by claims of low morale and believes the allegations stem from a long-standing personal dispute he's had with Greer.

Greer said the chief's comments to officers have made some officers angry enough that they will definitely sign the petition, whereas they may have been undecided before. Others, however, may have been influenced against signing.

"I think it may in fact scare some officers. Most of us have families to feed and many are afraid," he said.