City Council unanimously approves $2M program to recruit, retain San Diego police officers

San Diego loses eight to 10 officers a month

SAN DIEGO - The City Council Wednesday unanimously approved a $2 million program to recruit and retain officers in the San Diego Police Department.

Large disparities in take-home pay between the SDPD and competing departments are causing San Diego to lose around nine officers a month, and recent recruiting efforts are barely making a dent in the problem, according to the San Diego Police Officers Association.

A tentative agreement between the city and SDPOA seeks to close the take-home pay gap by raising a $900 annual uniform and equipment allowance by around $1,000 and ending a 12-month waiting period before police academy graduates can receive the allowance.

The city would also fund recruiting activities and promotional materials, at a cost of $35,000. The money would go to booths at community events and job fairs, and production of a recruiting video, according to a staff report.

"We needed action to demonstrate to our police officers and the public that the city is committed to an effective -- and emphasis on competitive -- a competitive police department that meets job market demands and has the resources to protect San Diego neighborhoods," Councilman Kevin Faulconer said.

He said the item that was approved was only a "first step" in retention efforts.

"It doesn't completely solve the problem, but I think it sends a huge message and definitely impacts the bottom line," said Faulconer.

While the vote was 8-0, Councilwoman Marti Emerald said the first step should have been pay raises to police officers in recent contract negotiations.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf responded that the council was responding to a crisis with the program and doesn't have unlimited money.

"We do realize that this is just the beginning," said Zapf.

SDPOA President Brian Marvel thanked the council members for their vote, via a statement sent to reporters.

"Hopefully, these funds will signal to our current officers and recruits that the city recognizes the seriousness of this issue and is making moves to find a more permanent solution to this problem," Marvel said.

"Police staffing levels have reached a critical tipping point," he said. "Within four years, half of our sworn officers will be eligible for retirement. Currently, we are losing more officers per month than we're able to replace -- even with our academies at peak capacity."

He said the city won't "curtail this hemorrhaging" until it offers competitive compensation packages, while working aggressively to attract the highest caliber applicants.

"It's more of a psychological message to the department saying, 'Look, we understand there's an issue. We're addressing it,'" said Marvel.

At a meeting in June, some council members said the city is paying $100,000 to train the officers, only to lose them to other law enforcement agencies. Also, nearly half of the SDPD officers will be eligible to retire in four years, according to the police union.

Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman told City News Service the SDPD currently has 1,853 officers, including 112 who are in the police academy or field training. The current number of officers is down about 300 from a decade ago.

In the previous year, the force lost 10 officers a month, and the current rate is nine a month, Zimmerman said. She said the goal of the new program is to reduce the figure to six a month.

At the current rate, the SDPD would reach its goal of 2,128 sworn officers, contained in its five-year management plan, by October 2029, based on four academies annually with 34 newcomers, she said.

At a loss rate of six officers a month, offset by the academies, the goal would be reached by April 2018, according to Zimmerman.

She said the personnel statistics change frequently as officers come and go.

Approximately 900 more officers are eligible to retire in the next four years, and proponents of the measure hope it will help keep some of those officers from retiring or leaving for other, more lucrative departments like the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

"What we're hoping is we'll be able to stabilize, that we'll be able to have these experienced officers not leave as soon as they become eligible," said Zimmerman.

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