Holladay’s UPD officers find themselves at the bottom of the pay scaleAug 23, 2021 11:26AM ● By Zak Sonntag
Police Cruiser ready to respond to call (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)
By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]
The City of Holladay is traditionally a great place to be a cop. Community relations are strong, crime rates stay relatively stable, and the city council is a dependably emphatic booster. But new developments both within and without Unified Police Department have diminished its appeal.
The last decade has disinterred an array of systemic issues in police departments across the country, and simmering public relations reached a tipping point last year when police officer Derick Chauvin murdered Minneapolis man George Floyd. The nationwide protest helped catalyze needed reforms, but for police officers, the movement has been double-edged. On the one hand, police suffered dispiriting blows to morale, but the ensuing scrutiny also revealed that officer expectations are steeper than civilians imagined.
Initially, the realizations inspired a movement to defund, a catchall term for the idea that the role of police in society needs to be rejiggered, and that some of its responsibilities and expectations ought be fulfilled by different types of civil servants. However, cities have begun to increase police funding, as we saw last month when Salt Lake City, West Valley City, and the City of South Salt Lake all okayed sizeable wage increases for its police officers.
Though the move is cheered by police throughout the state as a recognition of their work, it’s also created intra-occupation competition. Suddenly, UPD is not as attractive an employer, because abutting departments like Salt Lake City are offering a starting wage of $28 per hour in contrast to UPD’s $22.
“This may effect UPD, especially some of our younger officers who’ve just started their career and will be influenced by that sizeable pay difference,” said Ken Hansen, public relations officer with Unified Police. “You don’t have as many people wanting to be police officers after what’s happened in the last two years, so they’re raising pay, but that [supply and demand] of officers is a pendulum that swings.”
Even as talent may shift toward surrounding cities and away from the UPD family, UPD has other advantages that help draw and retain talent. Because Unified Police is a region-wide, shared services department, it has more opportunity for growth and experience, which has high value for civil servants.
“A lot of officers prefer to work for a larger department because it gives them the chances to work in different units. They might move from the violent crimes department, to narcotics, and on to canyon patrol. Being big has benefits for attracting the best and brightest, they want a full career and not to be stuck in the same patrol position with a small city,” said Hansen.
The advantages of being big are slowly shrinking for UPD as several cities have recently opted out of the service and begun their own local city departments. Herriman left, then Riverton, and this year Taylorsville followed them out. Now officials in Holladay and other participating cities are beginning to worry that the shared services model may become more expensive and less efficient if the trend of departure continues.
Mayor Robert Dahle of Holladay, who serves on a managing board of UPD, has been frustrated by cities choosing to leave, because the economy of scale is what makes the model smart—but if the scale diminishes the model will lose its relevance.
“We’ve had to make some decisions in UPD to make things work, and we essentially came out to all of our members and said either commit to the organization or let’s dissolve it,” said Dahle during a July council meeting.
Holladay councilmember Paul Fotheringham voiced similar worries.
“My biggest concern is Taylorsville leaving. I think UPD has adjusted well, but the larger picture still scares me because why would people be leaving when the economic model makes sense. If one more city leaves, we’ll be in trouble because at some point we’re going to lose critical mass.”
Holladay Precinct Chief Justin Hoyal is a strong advocate of the model and encourages leaders to stay in.
“I truly believe in this regional model. If we have a homicide, I want those officers who are specialized and trained and do it on a daily basis to be available to catch these bad guys and get them off the street by investigating those issues correctly. That’s what UPD brings is that resource,” said Hoyal, who offered the example of a recent drowning in Holladay whose resolution relied on UPD’s shared services. “Smaller cities can get help in an emergency but solving issues over the long haul is where the advantage of our shared services model becomes a big deal.”
As cities leave UPD, the budget—along with the department’s ability to attract talent through wages—will shrink. UPD is currently in discussions about officer pay.
“It’s been much more difficult to hire police officers,” Hoyal said.Some of our UPD officers went to Taylorsville and there’s been a lot of movement. We froze hirings knowing [the member departures] was going to happen. And we’re back in a position that we’re looking to hire again.”
As the competition stiffens between agencies, UPD will have to rely on its reputation and other intangibles to win talent from higher paying departments. Time will tell how the pendulum swings.