A recent memorandum from Nader Tirandazi, Financial Management Director, dated October 19, 2009, talked about current vacancies within the City of San Diego. Tirandazi was responding to a City Council request to provide a list of current vacancies in the City by department. The memorandum detailed 832 vacancies city wide with 320 of these vacancies in the Police Department and 106 in the Fire Department. The memorandum does not tell the whole story.
The ability of officers to protect citizens has been impacted by the policies of the city council, mayor and last year's imposed contract. The exodus of officers, almost all of them with over 25 years of experience and the inability of the department to retain younger officers, has created one of this nation's most dangerous destinations. The mayor and others will paint a picture of all's well and tell people a larger number of officers does not equate to safer streets. They will boast of lower crime statistics and a safe city while explaining the exodus of almost 300 officers in one year. There is much they are not telling citizens.
The actual numbers of officers available to protect citizens have shrunk every year since the 1990's. There are currently 1,862 sworn police officers, which includes all ranks, to police the City of San Diego. This is 262.75 short of budgeted strength (Someone help me understand the .75 officer). Of these 1,862 sworn officers, 61 of them are recruits, who may be enthusiastic, but are of no help when it comes to providing police protection to our citizens. An additional 64 of these sworn members of the department are managers (Lieutenants, Captains, and Chiefs) who do not participate in the protection of citizens and do not answer radio calls or respond to emergencies. There is an additional 126 sworn officers who are unavailable for service for a variety of reasons (Industrial Leave, Workers Comp, Military Leave, Long Term Disability, Light Duty to name a few). This leaves 1,611 sworn officers from a budgeted strength of 2,124.75, available to provide for the public's safety. A far cry from the numbers provided to taxpayers by the mayor and others.
The population of the city of San Diego is 1.3 million people; with 470,000 households; living in a land area of 324 square miles. Between 2000 and 2008 the population of San Diego grew 9% from 1,223,000 people to 1,337,000 while at the same time our police department shrunk in size. In 2006, the mayor commissioned a pay and benefit comparison report where he declared he wanted to "Stem the loss of officers" who were leaving in droves for other agencies offering better pay and benefits. In the report the mayor boasts of the city being the "4th safest city in America" citing a drop in overall crime of 2.3% for the first ten months of the year. The report, conducted by Buck Consultants, and presented December 19, 2006, showed the police department had 1,895 active sworn personnel (Today 1,862). Of those, 153 are on some kind of leave for a total of available sworn personnel of 1,742 (Today 1,611). The Department was budgeted for 2,089 officers in 2006 (Today 2,125.75). 683 officers have left the department since 2003 and only 390 have been hired.
In July of 2006, the mayor and police chief announced the "City's Comprehensive Police Recruitment and Retention Plan" in which the mayor called the loss of experienced police officers "a crisis for our community." On page 4 of this document, an e-mail the mayor sent police officers was re-produced. The diatribe has proven to be simply words, to buy him time to continue his failed policies. The entire "Plan" as you will, was and continues to be nothing more than empty words on a piece of paper. The pay and benefit study, as well as the recruitment and retention plan, were used as pacifiers to appease officers contemplating leaving.
In 2008, the RAND Corporation conducted a study of the San Diego Police Department's hiring and retention of officers. The study focused on recruiting and offered suggestions for reaching the budgeted staffing level of 2,125.75 sworn officers. After only hiring a record three (3) officers in 2003 and 2004; a lofty goal of hiring fifty (50) recruits for each academy class was proposed in hopes of reaching budgeted levels. It became clear, with the recent exodus of officers in 2009; this goal was not going to be realized any time soon. The ability to safely police a city the size of San Diego with roughly 1,000 patrol officers, is akin to asking our SRT Unit to travel to Tijuana and handle police duties there while their officers come to San Diego for the training the mayor has so generously offered. It may work for a short period of time but eventually someone is going to die.
The mayor is now demanding a reduction of $74 million dollars from the police department's budget for next year. If you eliminate the positions currently vacant (262.75) the result will be a $32 million dollar savings. The mayor is only willing to recognize a $24 million dollar savings because he does not view benefits as being part of the equation. This is another example of number and cost manipulation by the city's administration. So where do you cut $50 million dollars from a department budget that is already operating with insufficient resources? The elimination of personnel is the fasted way to coming up with this money. There is always the elimination of overtime; elimination of holidays; reduction of benefits; wage reductions; elimination or reduction of medical insurance; or the demotion of supervisors at all ranks that will still leave the need to eliminate positions.
How many people would need to be eliminated to make up the $50 million dollars? My calculations indicate somewhere between 320 and 360 employees (Sworn and non-sworn). So those individuals in the academy; field training; POI's and even a few POII's will be staring down the possibility of losing their jobs. Realistic? Possible.
Today the San Diego Police Department has fewer resources on which to draw to recruit and retain officers and to protect our citizens. Yet our responsibilities are expanding to include homeland security, immigration, cybercrime, and human trafficking, and there is even an increase of traditional duties in all areas of our communities that have rising levels of crime and violence. All of this is being made even more difficult because of the policies of the mayor and city council. The taxpayers have clearly placed public safety as their number one priority, yet the mayor and council have not. They have used smoke and mirrors to cover their actions by putting out twisted and in some cases false statistics related to crime. Their glowing words have painted a picture full of lies and deception.
It is time the mayor and city council stop playing politics and start making public safety their number one priority. This will require the chief to stand up and provide realistic and honest crime statistics and the current status of the police department's ability to provide adequate police services to this community. The current level of staffing has created an environment in San Diego that is dangerous for citizens and police officers alike. The lack of sufficient officers; coupled with the lack of experience; has already resulted in an increase of 113% in preventable traffic accidents by police officers. I could go on about the issues facing the police department as a result of the exodus of officers and the lack of experience in the ranks. One of the most telling numbers not talked about is that of the Police Officer One. Currently there are 252 POI's or one third of our uniformed officers providing police services. This is clearly an un-acceptable number and a recipe for disaster.
If you think it acceptable for a city the size of San Diego to have fewer than 120 uniformed police officers available from midnight to seven in the morning; 150 uniformed police officers available between five pm and midnight, patrolling your communities providing for your safety, you are living in the right city.