Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Politically Expedient

What will be the real outcomes of the City Council's actions when they eliminated twelve canine officers; all Investigative Aides; all but eight of the Police Service Officers; twelve Police Code Compliance Officers and the Harbor Patrol Officers from the police department's budget? The mayor and others have told you these cuts will only cause "minimal" delays in response times to calls for service. Let's check back in with Earth and have a reality check here.

I have been a police officer for the City of San Diego for 30+ years and am a resident and native of this city. It is irresponsible and disingenuous to say simply response times to calls for service will be the only effect of these cuts. Reality is people are going to be injured and even killed as a result of these cuts. Some will say I am simply an alarmist and pandering to a fearful group of citizens. Let me take some time and lead you through my thought process for coming to these realizations.

The loss of twelve canine officers will have a profound effect on the ability of patrol officers to apprehend and arrest suspects; defuse hostile and aggressive individuals and prevent the use of lethal force. Suspects often challenge an officer who is pointing a firearm at him, but when the suspect sees the canine he or she will immediately comply with commands and submit to arrest. Eliminating twelve of the thirty six canines will immediately place citizens and officers in harm's way as officers revert to physical measures to apprehend and arrest suspects. Not to mention the numbers of suspects who will elude capture by hiding and fleeing from officers where once a canine would find the hiding or fleeing suspect in short order. There will seldom if ever be more than two canine officers per watch for the entire City of San Diego; from San Ysidro to the Wild Animal Park. Feel free to do the math on how many miles each must cover.

The elimination of the Investigative Aides will require the transfer of thousands of the criminal cases investigated and processed by these Investigators to sworn detectives who struggle daily to keep up with the serious felony cases arriving on their desks. Included in these positions are two Investigative Aides who handle investigations related to seized, recovered and impounded firearms. These two Gun Desk Investigators are responsible for ensuring firearms are not returned to persons legally not allowed to posses them. They also process firearms for possible links to other crimes and work with Investigators in Homicide, Gangs and other investigative units linking crimes and suspects through the guns flowing across their desk. These duties will now fall upon sworn detectives; again removing him or her from their primary duties to complete these administrate and time consuming tasks. The elimination of these Investigative Aides will require additional detectives which will result in patrol officers being removed from their patrol duties to fill these positions.

The elimination of the Police Code Compliance Officers in Vice will have a tremendous negative effect upon the ability of the police department to monitor, regulate and control the many police regulated business in the City of San Diego. The Massage Parlors, Strip Clubs, Bars, Peep Shows and Adult Book Stores, Pawn Shops, Junk Yards, Second Hand Shops, Recycle Centers, Tow Companies, and Alarm Companies to name just a few; are inspected, regulated and licensed by these PCCO'S. Each of these industries has the potential for criminal activity and organized crime and requires close scrutiny of not just their practices but the employees working in them. The revenue generated from the licenses, permits and fines total roughly $7.2 million on an annual basis. The civilian officers who currently do these tasks have developed experience and expertise that have contributed to their outstanding record of performance. The duties and responsibilities for processing the thousands of permits, licenses and applications will now fall on the desk of sworn detectives who will be required to meet legal time requirements for issuing or denying licenses and permits as well as ensure critical criteria for licensing are met. These detectives will be required to become familiar with the nuances of each industry and the many regulatory rules, laws and costs of each. The owners of these industries demand proper, fair and comprehensive oversight. Sworn police detectives will now assume these duties and responsibilities and must learn each industry and the requirements for permitting, licensing and inspecting. Detectives will tire quickly of the administrative monotony and seek to transfer or promote to new challenges and a new detective will be transferred in to begin the learning processes anew. These constant changes will soon result in loss of oversight and allow for more criminal activity to take hold. The quality of life issues surrounding these many industries are to vast to discuss here but you can imagine the degradation to our communities that will soon follow. Lest we forget the loss of revenue from the unintentional lag in processing and lack of adequate oversight and inspection resulting in fines being levied.

The city of San Diego is a world class destination for vacationers and the waterways are a popular play spot for locals. The elimination of the Harbor Patrol Unit of the San Diego Police Department is short sighted, penny wise and pound foolish. The cost of this unit is miniscule (less than $70,000) and their immeasurable experiences and qualifications are hard to quantify and cannot be replaced easily. The lives saved and the accidents prevented by these experienced sworn officers demand a solution be found to fund these positions. To believe the coast guard or life guards will step in and provide the preventive presence and enforcement currently provided is laughable.

The loss of the Police Service Officers (PSO) will have a profound effect on patrol officers. These dedicated civilian police service officers investigate burglaries, traffic accidents, thefts, recover property, assist with traffic direction at scenes and handle the many responsibilities surrounding community watch groups and crime prevention. These duties will now fall to the patrol officer.

Many will say we all have to suck it up. Some will say we are not doing enough. The mayor has boasted the streets are safe and there will be little to no effect on the public's safety. I would suggest the public and police officers are not safe and the pages of San Diego public safety have been turned back twenty plus years and our ability to do our job reduced to 1970 levels. In 1988, Gerald Sanders, Captain, ID# 1840, was the Commanding Officer at Southeast Division. On a normal day in Southeastern Division, Captain Sanders put nineteen (19) police officers, two sergeants, two police service officers and three reserve officers into the field to protect the citizens of Southeast Division. We had begun a program called "Contact and Cover" as a result of ten (10) on-duty officer deaths in the prior 12 years.

Then Captain Sanders was vocal about his desire to increase the staffing in his command and believed at the time he did not have enough officers too safely and properly police this area of the city. Yet today he has eviscerated the civilian support personnel whose primary duties allowed officers to concentrate on maintaining order and providing safe communities. The sworn officer's ability to do their job is made possible by these dedicated persons. The loss of those whose duties will now fall to sworn officers will require detectives to be re-assigned to these vacant positions and patrol officers to take on additional duties. The reality is there are going to be many functions we once provided as a routine that will fall by the way side. The ability of officers on patrol to answer radio calls, conduct investigations, provide traffic enforcement, arrest criminal violators, and provide crime prevention assistance will result in officers cutting corners and taking unnecessary risk.

Unlike Captain Sanders staffing numbers in 1988, divisions throughout the San Diego Police Department fail to meet even watered down minimum staffing on a daily, shift by shift basis. Minimum staffing in 1988 in Southeastern Division was almost two times what it is today. Calls for service were a fraction of what they are today. PSO'S, Investigative Aides, and Reserves were available and staffing was greater in 1988 than it is today and sufficient officers to provide at minimum "contact and cover" for each other. Yet in Captain Sanders own words this staffing was not enough in 1988.

The 10,000 pound elephant in the room is the political grandstanding elected officials and others are doing in the name of no layoffs of sworn police officers. The mayor and others are pounding their chest and proclaiming "No Sworn Police Officers" were laid off and we are all suppose to be grateful. The reality is the layoffs proposed by the mayor and approved by the City Council will have a much more profound effect on the public's safety and our ability to do anything about it. The politicians continue to force the blame for the budget deficit on the city's employees. The politically expedient and politically popular move is to layoff civilian, non-sworn members of the police department and boast of preserving the public's safety.

The proper course of action, as distasteful and painful as it may have been, would have been to layoff the 38 or so academy recruits and 30 police trainees. The budget correction sought would have been accomplished with less effect on the public and officer's safety. This course of action would have required truthful dialogue with the taxpayer and an additional step of offering up real solutions. The current politicians in the City of San Diego do not have the will or ability to do this. Until that time comes, we will continue to face cuts to services, personnel, wages and benefits.

Who will accept responsibility for those injured and killed as a result of the degradation to the public's safety in San Diego?