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S.L. police have little faith in their chief, top officials

SHARE S.L. police have little faith in their chief, top officials

An independent audit of the Salt Lake Police Department shows that street officers have little confidence in the department's top brass.

The employee attitude survey, conducted in February, is part of an audit being conducted on the department at the request of the City Council by a California management consulting firm.The officers expressed "limited confidence in important management processes" related to job performance expectations and con-duct, disciplinary actions, Internal Affairs processes and job promotions, the survey states.

In contrast, non-sworn employees, including dispatchers and support staff, are satisfied with department leadership and gave high marks to their immediate supervisors and managers, the study found.

Police officers and managers also expressed satisfaction with their immediate supervisors and praised the effectiveness of specialty units such as K-9, vice and the crime lab. But rank-and-file officers have harsh criticisms for upper management:

- For starters, 80 percent of those officers said different standards of conduct are applied to managers and supervisors than to them.

- Disciplinary actions are also meted out differently between the groups, 81 percent said.

- Fifty-eight percent of line officers said their opportunities for assignments and promotions are out of whack, with the advantage to management.

- Fifty-four percent said testing processes for advancement are unfair.

- In addition, 84 percent of line officers who responded said they don't feel they can raise a valid disciplinary issue that involves a manager or supervisor without feeling the pinch of retaliation.

All of that speaks loudly about how the rank and file feels about top rung management - which includes the chief, assistant chiefs and captains, Salt Lake Police Association president Jill Candland said.

"It shows there's a major disconnection between line officers and higher-ups," Candland said.

The results are actually no surprise to Candland and other members of the union. Last August, the Police Association conducted a survey of its own, which produced similar results. The majority of officers said the department needed a change in leadership.

Chief Reuben Ortega has dismissed that survey as "unscientific" and called the questions "loaded."

City Council Chairman Bryce Jolley said the 1998 audit is in no way connected to the results of the union's findings.

"It was just time. It was just their turn." he said.

Jolley said the city routinely audits each of its departments and it has been about 10 years since an audit was conducted within the police department.

All 574 of the department's employees were surveyed. Those numbers include sworn officers from the patrol division up through the chief's office and non-sworn employees, which include support staff and dispatchers.

Response to the survey was high - 77 percent - according to John Heiss of David M. Griffiths & Associates, which has conducted other audits for the city, including those of the fire and parks departments and the city library.

"These high response rates result in the questionnaires providing a valid indication of the perceptions of sworn and non-sworn staff," the survey summary reads.

Ortega was out of town and unavailable for comment. Assistant Police Chief Roy Wasden, however, said the department was "well aware" of what turned up in the survey.

"But we see (the survey results) as appendices to the final document," he said. "It's an in-progress document."

How those results are interpreted also may be a matter of perspective, he added.

"Sometimes, it's how you look at the glass - half empty or half full," Wasden said. "I don't see this as a sweeping indictment of the sergeants, lieutenants, captains, senior management and particularly of Chief Ortega."

The survey results aren't the same as a complete audit, both Heiss and Jolley said. Completion isn't slated until late July, when results will be addressed in a public forum by the City Council.

"This is only a working document," said Heiss, adding that the final audit will include recommendations from his firm to address the issues raised.

As a work-in-progress, Jolley doesn't think there's much to talk about right now. In fact, council members and a steering committee of nine police department staffers have only been briefed in general about the survey results and don't have copies of the documents obtained by the Deseret News, he said.

"It's a little disconcerting that someone has released this (to the newspaper). It was my understanding that it was not going to be talked about until the report was complete," Jolley said. "I feel like someone is trying to thwart the process."

Jolley said he was unable to comment on the survey results as he doesn't have a copy and doesn't know what they say. Other council members contacted by the Deseret News also said they had not yet seen the document.

Wasden and Jolley were also quick to note that the news about the department wasn't all bad.

- Non-sworn staff and emergency dispatchers both expressed high percentages of job satisfaction and confidence in leadership.

- And a separate survey conducted among about 300 members of the public who had had contact with department officers was also positive. More than 80 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with the service the department provides and that their experiences with officers had been good.

Candland acknowledges that many things about the police department don't need fixing. In most cases, for example, officers enjoy good relationships with their immediate supervisors.

Survey results say officers feel they have good support, get good support and get recognized when they perform well.

But when so many officers appear to have such serious concerns about management, something needs to be done, Candland said.

What will come of the audit when the final results are released in July is anybody's guess, Jolley said. Normal procedure is to review the audit during a council meeting and then, depending on the outcome, turn the information back to the department director to make the appropriate adjustments.

Candland said she doesn't know why waiting until July will make any difference in how the numbers read.

"The numbers aren't going to change," she said.