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The union representing Cape Breton Regional police officers says they've reached an impasse with management. (CBC)

The union that represents Cape Breton Regional Police officers says they've hit an impasse with management in a dispute over pay when an officer is criminally charged.

Dozens of officers with the force are refusing special duties, such as working in the emergency response unit, the public safety unit, training and the dive team.

They want the Cape Breton Regional Police force to continue paying an officer beyond 60 days if they are charged with a crime. They also want the force to pick up legal fees if the officer is found not guilty.

The head of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents the officers, says morale is at an all-time low.

Joan Jessome said the union thought Friday that an agreement was reached, but that changed over the weekend.

Officials with the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union say every other police department in Atlantic Canada covers officer pay and legal expenses until there is a verdict.

"When an allegation is made against us and we are charged with a crime, we want to be innocent until proven guilty," said Sgt. Robert MacMullin, the president of the local union.

"We want our pay to continue until we’re convicted of an offence."

But Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac said it's not that simple and this dispute should be discussed at contract negotiations in February.

"When an officer goes out and gets involved in a situation of a shooting or a high-speed chase there's all kinds of legal aid protection there for them," he said.

"But when it’s very glaring, when an officer commits a criminal offence that's outside the scope of their duties, there's no legal aid protection for that."

McIsaac said in an emergency situation, officers will be expected to show up for special duties. The RCMP is also on standby to help.