SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – As if you didn’t already know, the last year was rough on a lot of folks.
The Salt Lake City Police Department took its lumps in a big way, as the force saw officers leave their posts in droves. According to the department’s Public Information Officer, Det. Michael Ruff, somewhere between 90 to 100 SLCPD officers either retired or resigned in 2020, an abnormally high figure.
Dealing with a still-lingering pandemic, a surge in negative public sentiment towards police, and uncivil unrest, headlined by a city-wide riot on May 30, 2020, led many officers to feel defeated and exhausted, ultimately choosing to walk away from the profession.
“It was a tough time,” Ruff explains to ABC4.com.“It’s not easy when you’re going out and having people that are upset with something and they’re not necessarily upset with you but they have something that they’re upset about and our job is to protect their rights to protest, but we’re also the ones that are taking the heat of that and that can be difficult.”
While the supply of patrolmen dwindled, the demand on call volume increased. Ruff says the uptick in service calls doesn’t necessarily mean that crime has gone up in the city. Still, getting out to answer calls across the state’s largest police department has required many officers to step outside their usual realm of responsibility.
In an effort to play “catch-up” and better serve the state’s capital city, the department has ramped up its recruiting outreach, sending more and more prospective officers to the police academy. According to Ruff, the department welcomed a new batch of 20 cadets on Monday. He hopes to see 20-30 more rookies enter the academy at another date later this year.
While navigating perceived anger and distrust towards the police is still a challenge, Ruff feels some of the wounds from 2020 are healing. He notes that he frequently gets a pat on the back and a thank you from civilians while he’s on his lunch break. Part of his responsibilities is to work in the youth explorer program for teens aged 14-20 who are interested in law enforcement. It’s not uncommon for kids in the program to feed into the police force as adults, Ruff says.
To draw more interest in acquiring quality candidates, Ruff states that the compensation has increased considerably. A new pay scale for officers was recently put into place, with the new starting rate for a rookie cop hitting $26 an hour, a 30% increase from previous years. That rate can top out at $39 hourly after 12 years. Those who come into the force with a college degree, while it’s not required, can see an even larger check on payday, Ruff adds.
For those that are interested in police, Ruff states the biggest qualifier is a concern for others in the community, as well as physical, mental, and emotional ability.
“I think the most important thing is somebody who wants to serve and wants to be a police officer and has that drive and desire,” he says. “There’s a lot of things too, you obviously have to be in good shape, you have to be able to communicate with people. A lot of being a police officer is somebody who can talk so we have people that come from all kinds of different backgrounds.”
Of course, there is an inherent danger in donning the badge and Ruff notes that he’s been in several dangerous situations in his 14 years in the department. Still, he feels the rewards outweigh the risk, especially when he’s been able to “be there for someone on their worst day.”
“I’ve gotten notes from people in my career that say ‘Hey, I know you had to do this on a very terrible day for me but I really appreciate you being there for me’ and that’s the biggest reward you could have in a job is somebody saying thank you.”