Recruiting still primary focus for San Diego Police Department

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Police Department has some work to do in alleviating a sworn officer shortage, though upcoming initiatives should improve recruitment and retention efforts, Independent Budget Analyst Chris Olsen told the City Council's Budget Review Committee Monday.

"The proposed budget addresses this priority in a number of ways," he said.

Olsen took part in a police spending presentation made to the committee, which this week is holding hearings on Mayor Kevin Faulconer's $3.8 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

SDPD has for several years dealt with a staffing crisis that has lengthened response times and increased overtime budgets.

As of April 23, there were 1,797 filled officer positions compared to a budgeted total of 2,040, according to an IBA report. Olsen said net hiring levels remain static while the department loses an average of 14 to 15 officers per month, likely at least partially due to uncompetitive pay compared to other California police departments.

SDPD salary increases beginning July will narrow that gap. City officials reached an agreement with the San Diego Police Officers Association last year that will boost officer salaries by $18.5 million in the coming fiscal year. Apart from retaining officers, the increases are expected to improve academy recruitment efforts.

Four academies beginning in 2017 each produced between 21 and 38 recruits, which doesn't meet department needs, SDPD Chief David Nisleit told the committee Monday.

"When we're having those numbers in the 20s and 30s -- that was really impacting us, because academies just weren't taking care of attrition. We need to get the academies up into the 50s," he said.

The academy that began March 2 is expected to produce 43 cadets, and Nisleit said the upcoming June academy is looking at 50 possible recruits.

The academy cannot backfill the department's experienced officer pool, however. Nisleit said nearly 60 percent of SDPD officers have six years of experience or less.

Committee member Scott Sherman said attracting experienced officers is one of the department's most pressing priorities.

"We don't have that middle, which concerns me. Because our senior officers are going to go through a deserved retirement ... But we don't have people with the years of experience to train the new guys, plus we're having that gap that's going to cause us even more problems going forward," he said.

Nisleit said the SDPD is considering a proposal to offer hiring bonuses in order to encourage lateral officer transfers from other police departments.

"I'm hoping this new proposal that will be moving forward will help fill that gap, and this pay package will help people delay retirement. And with these big academies coming in, I'm hoping well see that swing to a positive increase in numbers," he said.

The upcoming pay package increase has already attracted four former SDPD officers back to the department, Nisleit said, as well as four officers from other cities who haven't previously worked for the SDPD.

The current police budget also includes $350,000 for a recruitment marketing plan. The department is currently negotiating a contract with a company to conduct the campaign, Nisleit said.

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