Sunday, July 5, 2009

The “DEMISE” of Law Enforcement in America’s “CHEAPEST” City – San Diego

"Never have so few given so much, for so little" is an appropriate history for our police department. Continually understaffed, inadequately equipped, grossly underpaid; we still continue to do an outstanding job. Year after year, we have asked, demanded, pleaded and even begged with City Hall for relief; only to be told "We can't afford it." The two questions might well be asked; how have we endured as long as we have; and how much longer can we hope to survive?

The reason we have endured to this point has been due almost entirely to the individual dedication of our personnel and our own qualified police administration. But there is a limit, or breaking point, in every organization and, when it is reached, avoiding chaos and disaster is a monumental task. A government is only as good as the employees who provide service to the people the government serves. Government has a genuine need to first satisfy its own employees if it expects to adequately serve its constituents.

How does the government of California's 2nd largest city treat its employees – particularly police officers?

  • They ignore all factual data on comparable police salaries and fringe benefits paid by progressive police agencies in the state.
  • They fail to provide a workable employee-employer relations police and grievance procedure with third party arbitration.
  • They spend in excess of $20,000 in dues to the League of California Cities to lobby against ALL police related and PORAC sponsored legislation.
  • They use the outstanding record of the Police Department to further their own political ambitions, while totally ignoring our record in terms of fair compensation.
  • They change the rules and procedures at will to satisfy their goals and fortify their own position.

And all this they do in the name of good government by maintaining one of the lowest tax rates and per capita costs of any major city in the state! What have WE been doing for our city? Taking it where it hurts!!!

  • We have taken one-man car operations as a way of life so that the city can show more officers on the street – the safety of the officer is a remote consideration when more police officers cost money.
  • We have built a Police Reserve force to fill in the gaps in service at little or no cost to the city.
  • We have continually improved the level of education within our department through P.O.S.T. financial assistance to the city.
  • We continue to work many hours of overtime, due to inadequate staffing, to answer all the demands placed upon is.
  • We maintain one of the highest crime cancellation rates in the nation due to the individual efforts of our officers – not because the city provides sufficient manpower or incentive.
  • We provide a considerable number of services that other cities have long since dropped, such as investigating minor traffic accidents; a benefit to our citizens which, coupled with good traffic enforcement, has helped to keep insurance rates well below that of other major cities.
  • We have provided store front offices; school task force officers; school safety patrol; and the list goes on and on; and the city government says, "We have a fine police department."

"A fine police department" grossly understates the facts; but apparently only we can fully appreciate our worth. The city certainly does not. There is an old saying. "When you're second, you try harder," and it's true in San Diego for an entirely different reasons; we try harder because there are less of us to do the job, and maybe that's where we have been making our biggest mistake.

If the city continues its present posture toward police, the time is rapidly approaching; if it is not here already; when they will get only the quality and service they pay for, and it will be far less than it is today. We will not attract or retain the high quality of officer we have and need; now will we have the quality and desire to maintain our present high level of service.

If high quality law enforcement ever dies in America's "Cheapest City," it will not be the fault of our present dedicated employees; but the total responsibility will be with the non-responsive group called "City Government."

I wish I could say I wrote the above words. Some of you older readers may have read this before. In June 1973, John R. Lewis, a Director of the San Diego Police Officer's Association, wrote this for the "Fall In" the official publication of the SDPOA. Thirty-six years of the same old story. Seems tradition; good or bad is hard to change. Carried in the same edition of the "Fall In" is an editorial (BELOW) that again hits home, even today (Author unknown).


For many years, the San Diego Police Department has been forced to operate with the fewest number of officers of any major city in the nation. It has consistently remained at or near the top of the list in effectiveness and efficiency. This outstanding record can be traced to one source; the men and women of the department. Although continually hampered by inadequate manpower and equipment, the San Diego Police Department has been successful, due only to the selfless dedication to duty adhered to by its members. Their initiative and tireless devotion to duty have been the lone resources by which the rising tide of crime in this city has been slowed over the years. But now the saturation point has been reached. The City Administration has consistently failed to provide additional manpower and equipment as requested by the Police Department, and while crime nationally decreased 3%, it rose 10% in San Diego last year.

Though continuing to work at a frantic pace, and reducing some services previously provided, the Police Department is no longer able to keep pace with the demands made upon it; hence, the crime rate is increasing.

What is the City Government doing to correct this trend? The answer is NOTHING. Again, the Police Department budget requests have been trimmed to the bone; equipment and manpower increases are next to non-existent. In addition, the "City Fathers" have taken action to destroy the only positive tool the Police Department posses; the dedication of its employees. The action to which I refer is the recent establishment of a new salary policy for city employees. Historically, San Diego Police Officers have received pay and benefits far below other major departments in the state, although the city's own salary police dictated; "…they be paid among the best in the state." In recent years, the equity gap has widened even more, while the city has carried on a charade of negotiations through "meet-and-confer" sessions with the SDPOA. Historically, disputes and impasses have been submitted to the Civil Service Commission for fact finding and recommendation, a procedure which the present city administration has seen fit to eliminate. In addition, a new salary setting policy has been adopted, which deletes the words, "among the best paid in the state" as it refers to city employee salaries. The city administration by this action has gone on record as being totally unconcerned with the needs of the city employee, and no longer intends to promote a façade of reflecting fairness in its dealings with the employees. The city administration obviously does not care that the salaries and benefits given to its police officers and other employees are not comparative even to that of San Diego County employees, let alone those throughout the state.

If the City doesn't care, how can it expect its police officers to care? When a Sheriff's Deputy, with pay and benefits makes more than a San Diego Police Officer, while performing the same work, how can the city expect to retain the dedication and concern of its employees? The answer, of course, is that it cannot!!!

These consequences are what can be expected;

  • Increased turnover in experienced personnel
  • Increased sick leave and injury leave
  • Decreased work performance
  • Decreased efficiency
  • Decreased effectiveness in recruiting qualified personnel
  • Increased cannibalizing of our personnel by other agencies giving better pay and benefits.

Mr. Mayor and Council:

Within a few years of these articles, the San Diego Police Department began losing officers to other agencies and then a series of tragedies where 12 officers were killed in the line of duty. The homicide rate in San Diego climbed to record levels. We are at that place again today with the loss of over 250 senior, experienced officers and lack of qualified candidates seeking to fill the 300+ vacant positions. We have a mayor and council who's first priority is NOT Public Safety. We have a city government who steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the crisis they have created in the ranks of the San Diego Police Department.

If history repeats itself and it is surely to do so given the circumstances we face today; crime will grow exponentially and we will soon see officers killed in the line of duty. This circumstance we find ourselves in, again, is preventable and avoidable. The mayor will blame the economy, state government and the employees and their benefits; he will refuse to accept any responsibility. The real cause is failed leadership and the refusal to stand above it all and do the right thing. Shame on you mayor; city council and taxpayer. Each of you shares responsibility in the demise of a once proud and experienced police department; which is now a struggling, young department teetering on the edge of disaster.


Anonymous said...

We may not have much of a police department, but sounds like we will have one hell of a library downtown. Priorities........

30 plus years said...

We have the cheapest citizens in San Diego too. They voted down 2 TOT tax opportunities that would not have cost them a thing. It would have taxed the tourists and helped us out a lot. But they did not trust the city council would spend it properly. Wait, I think I just contradicted myself. We’re screwed…

Anonymous said...

Civilian - I totally agree with what you've said. This also pertains to the civilians working for the PD, especially the "consequences." I have different job descriptions daily - payroll clerk, supply clerk, staff sergeant, admin. assistant, janitor, etc. I enjoy my job, but I've seen my staff go from 5 to 1! I do what needs to be done to keep the station running but there's coming a time when there's not enough personnel to handle it all. Then what? Oh yeah, we'll get a sworn person to do it at double the pay. Now that's really using city staff and money well.

Anonymous said...

I joined the PD in 1968 and during my 30 years I remember all those Fall In articles. It a real shame that the Department has gone backyard so badly. We had some hard times, but nothing like this with the amount of loss, both sworn and civilian.

Steve, yopu do a fantastic job and, hopefully you can continue to spread the real story.

JJ Retired said...

This is a sad state of affairs. In 1973 we were going through the same crap different players and different times but same old story. It is a trend in San Diego that appears will never end in our life time. Sad, sad, sad...

Keep up the GREAT posts Steve. Thank You!!