SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City police officer Alen Gibic said ever since he was a child, he knew he wanted to be a police officer. When he turned 21, that dream came true.
Gibic has since spent 13 years serving the Salt Lake City Police Department — an agency he holds very close to his heart.
"It's where I made my dumbest mistakes and earned my greatest achievements," he said. "I am a Salt Lake City police officer. It's who I am."
And yet Gibic told the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday night that he's applied to another Wasatch Front police agency in search of a salary that will keep up with cost of living.
"Every year I stay here, my paychecks are worth less money," he said, noting every year he's had to increase his family's grocery budget.
"I believe Salt Lake City officers are the best of the best," Gibic said. "Yet a lot of us feel like we're on a sinking ship. Please save us."
Gibic and other Salt Lake police officers came before the City Council to urge city leaders to increase officers' pay to a more competitive wage. For too long, salaries for officers in Utah's capital have been neglected, they said.
"For years and years now, we continue to struggle with pay inequity here in Salt Lake City," said detective Steven Winters, the president of the Salt Lake Police Association.
Winters, who sent a letter to the City Council last week amid wage negotiations with city leaders, urging the council to prioritize police wage increases as the city prepares for budget season.
Winters said the Salt Lake Police Department ranks ninth along the Wasatch Front in police wages, and yet the department's calls for services are higher than any other agency in the state.
"This pay inequity simply cannot continue," he said. "The pressures on police have never been more difficult than they are today."
Winters urged council members to remember "we're human" as well, with families to support. And as the city prepares to host the 2019 United Nations conference and possibly another Olympics, "How do we continue to ignore the growing problem of pay inequity?" he asked.
Officer John Fitisemanu, who has served Salt Lake City for more than five years, pointed out the Salt Lake City Council voted to increase their own paychecks just last year.
"While you're able to vote your own raises, we at the police department are unable to do so, or else we would have by now," He said. "Police officers in this department are frustrated, angry, confused at the lack of cooperation and concern from Salt Lake City."
Fitisemanu said Salt Lake police officers are "underpaid, understaffed and overworked on a consistent basis." He pointed out that even though Salt Lake City recently offered 23 experienced officers positions, only five accepted.
"We're the capital of the state of Utah, we should be the pinnacle that other agencies emulate," he said. "Instead, our wage and our benefits package looks like a 2-year-old wrote it with crayon. That needs to be fixed."
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski is slated to present her proposed budget in early May. After her proposal, the City Council will weigh in on the budget.
Last year, as part of a sales tax hike to pay for streets, transit, affordable housing and public safety, Biskupski proposed spending nearly $2.6 million for an overall police salary and benefit increase. The adopted budget included pay raises for city employees, including police officers, but that wasn't enough, according to the Salt Lake Police Association.
While you're able to vote your own raises, we at the police department are unable to do so, or else we would have by now. Police officers in this department are frustrated, angry, confused at the lack of cooperation and concern from Salt Lake City.
–SLC Police Officer John Fitisemanu
Council members did not weigh in on the issue Tuesday night after the public comment portion of the meeting. But council Chairman Charlie Luke told the Deseret News on Wednesday the council "supports" all public safety personnel but can't meet with union representatives outside of the annual budget process.
Luke said the council has a long-standing agreement with the mayor's office not to be involved in negotiations or separate conversations with union representatives during the budget process, and so the council "doesn't want to take any action that could undermine a fair negotiating process."
"Once negotiations are complete, once the mayor submits her budget, then we can jump right back into having some of those discussions," he said.
Biskupski's spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said Wednesday negotiations are ongoing.
"We will have a better sense once the budget is announced in early May," he said.