What the Latest City Budget Means for Cops - Voice of San Diego

City Budget UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

What the Latest City Budget Means for Cops

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s budget aims to combat an expected rush of police retirements with a hiring push.

In recent years, the city’s police department has shed more officers than it’s hired.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer wants to reverse the trend with his first proposed budget, which includes plans to bolster police academies and throw more cash at efforts to keep veteran officers.

This is what Faulconer’s proposals would do, and how they stack up against the realities that he’s dealing with.

No. 1 on Faulconer’s agenda: Hire lots of new cops and more than a dozen civilians.

Faulconer’s budget envisions adding nine new slots to each of the city’s four police academies next year, resulting in an extra 36 recruits.

His budget also includes extra cash to hire 17 new civilian workers to help police with criminal investigations, low-priority calls and administrative needs. In 2010, the city cut the department’s civilian force significantly and police have said adding two new classes of workers – known as police service officers and investigative assistants – will help officers focus on proactive policing.

There are some challenges that come with an influx of new staffers, though. For one, many of these new officer hires will be young, and almost all will lack previous police experience.

Veteran cops often say it takes years for rookie officers to learn the ropes. Each new San Diego officer spends at least four months learning from a more experienced officer after graduating from the police academy but the variety and volume of calls means they’re still picking up knowledge even after a few years on the job.

Fledging officers already make up a significant chunk of San Diego’s police force, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has acknowledged.

“Half of our working patrol officers have six or fewer years on our department. On some commands, 70 percent of officers have six or fewer years,” Zimmerman told the San Diego Community Newspaper Group earlier this year.  “That’s a lot of young officers. Not by age but by experience.”

Joshua Chanin, a public affairs professor at San Diego State University who studies police issues, said a young police department doesn’t necessarily translate to a troubled one.

The more important variable is the department’s training and oversight systems, he said.

“The department can manage it and shouldn’t be using age or experience as any sort of excuse for conduct,” Chanin said.

The department will lose lots of experienced officers no matter what Faulconer does.

About half of the city’s police force will be eligible to retire in the next few years – a stat that has been floated countless times in the last year as the city’s police union angles for larger paychecks.

Some of those officers are required to retire based on their enrollment in the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which forces them to depart five years after they sign up.

Zimmerman, the new police chief, is one of those cops. She’s required to retire by March 2018.

But the force loses officers in other ways too.

Here’s a breakdown of their reasons for leaving in the 2013 fiscal year.

 

Fifteen officers told the Police Department they were leaving San Diego for other (likely more lucrative) law-enforcement jobs elsewhere and another 34 bailed for miscellaneous reasons they didn’t share. Zimmerman told Voice of San Diego she suspects many took other police jobs.

Faulconer wants to try to retain more seasoned officers but it’s not clear how he’ll do it – or how much success he’ll have.

Faulconer’s team penciled in $3.2 million for a police retention program but has yet to detail how it plans to spend that money. City officials and the police union are in the process of hashing that out now.

An independent budget analyst’s report released Monday suggested that money may come in the form of increased overtime payouts for officers.

Pay raises seem like an obvious fix but that concept isn’t so simple in San Diego.

A city pension initiative approved in November 2012 and a five-year agreement with the city’s police union bar straight salary hikes so the city has to come up with creative solutions.

Last year, city officials sunk $2 million into officers’ uniform allowances, offsetting the amount cops had to spend on their required work wardrobe.

Police union President Brian Marvel recently told KPBS he expects the new money to help revive a past overtime program for officers who work holidays.

But Marvel was skeptical increased payouts would result in fewer officers leaving this year.

“I anticipate our attrition rate for a variety of reasons will be over 130 sworn officers,” Marvel wrote in an email to KPBS. “Last year we lost 119 sworn officers.”

Faulconer may have more to offer police next year.

The police union is expected to negotiate changes to its city contract next year though the same limitations in place now will likely still be in effect. Faulconer’s office has already begun working on a police compensation study to prepare for these negotiations and could use the findings to come up with other nontraditional ways to boost police paychecks.

If the city manages to continue to hire at the rate Faulconer’s proposing – and attrition remains steady – it’ll meet some big long-term goals.

Last year, the City Council approved a plan aimed at bolstering police staffing and resources over the next five years.

The blueprint said the department should try to reach 2,128 officers by 2018 but the city’s hiring formula at the time wouldn’t have made that possible until almost 10 years later, in April 2027.

The city’s independent budget analyst concluded the city could reach the goal on time if it continues to follow Faulconer’s blueprint – and manages to keep attrition at just nine officers a month for the next several years.

That equals an annual turnover rate of 108 officers, less than the department saw last year or what the police union chief has publicly predicted for this year.

The budget analyst’s office explained in its report that the city’s police and financial management departments signed off on the number and “indicated it is an accurate estimate based on recent trends and known retirement dates.”

Chris Olsen, the independent budget analyst who reviewed the police budget, said the nine-per-month assumption was also reasonable given the need to make long-range projections about police staffing dynamics that may change considerably over the next decade.

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