SALT LAKE CITY — Last week, a FOX 13 investigation revealed the Salt Lake City Police Department consistently arrives too slow to the most urgent 911 calls.
The Salt Lake City Council and Mayor's Office have now responded, signaling there is help on the way.
In an interview with FOX 13, SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she was encouraged to see the latest average response times are not as bad as they were a few months ago.
"There's absolutely room for us to improve," Mayor Mendenhall said. "So we’re going to keep restock, grow our department... There has never been a more compelling time to be a public servant than there is now."
Current SLCPD average response times are still significantly slower than the department's stated goal of four to five minutes.
Detective Keith Horrocks, a spokesperson for the department, said he believes response times have improved lately due to fewer calls for service in the winter and spring months. He expected calls for service to increase this summer.
SLCPD is currently understaffed by at least 77 officers, not including the Salt Lake City International Airport. The agency expects to be down more than 84 officers in the coming weeks.
In a public meeting on Tuesday, council members agreed the problem will take more than just time or money to fix.
Council member James Rogers said he believes higher officer salaries would help boost morale.
"I’ve never seen the police department in such bad shape, to be honest, ever," Rogers said. "In my opinion they should be paid 100 percent of what the market is. That’s just me, personally. I know we have ongoing negotiations... When you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you. When they feel like they’re being supported, they’re absolutely going to go out and do their job 100 percent."
Salt Lake City Council Chair Amy Fowler released the following statement in response to the FOX 13 investigation.
"It is distressing to hear of any victim of a crime and a slow response time by the Police Department," Fowler wrote. "The shortage of officers is a top priority as we review the Mayor's recommended budget for PD and the City as a whole."
Joe McBride, president of the union representing SLCPD officers, agreed lack of morale is the reason so many have left.
"We would like to see a much more vocal and involved leadership," McBride said. "One that is clearly in support of their officers when those officers are doing what’s right."
As McBride spoke about a failure in leadership, he made it clear he was not necessarily referring to Mayor Mendenhall. Instead, the union has been primarily frustrated with Chief Mike Brown, who they believe has not done enough to publicly or privately support his own officers.
Chief Brown has continued to avoid interviews with FOX 13 for months. Members of the SLCPD communications office have previously stated he either "would not be interested" or "too busy" to address the topic.
FOX 13's latest request was ignored entirely.
"I think Chief Brown and his team work hard to be responsive to the rank and file," said Rachel Otto, the mayor's chief of staff. "I’m sure it’s challenging as any employee/ employer relationship can be sometimes."
Otto agreed officers need to be paid "appropriately" and that the department's staffing levels need to be restored.
"Mayor Mendenhall has never promoted the idea of 'defunding the police,'" Otto said. "Our officers are concerned (about slow response times). The mayor and the city council are concerned. Nobody wants to see response times that are lengthy for a Priority 1 or Priority 2 call."
If the Salt Lake City Council approves the mayor's budget, the department would move forward in trying to hire and train new officers.
There are currently 24 potential officers going through the SLCPD training academy.
"The goal would be to have several academies throughout each year so that we’re constantly making sure that we have officers in the pipeline," Otto said. "I think we’re headed in the right direction as long as we get our staffing numbers back up to what they should be."
It takes approximately 10.5 months for officers to finish all SLCPD training requirements before they are able to patrol the city.