With crime rates rising again, San Diego's chronically understaffed Police Department is now lobbying City Hall for more money after years of budget squeezes.
In a 15-page report that calls for a "re-building" process, police officials warn that staffing levels -- among the nation's lowest for big cities -- are less than ideal for crime-fighting.
They also say that communication systems, officers' equipment and department facilities badly need upgrading.
Members of San Diego’s ‘thin blue line’ have seen strenuous duty lately, including seemingly endless shifts devoted to monitoring and arresting local “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators, and delivered better results than what the city's investment in them might have been expected to yield.
The city’s per-capita ratio of sworn officers is barely more than half the national average for police forces.
"We've always had issues with the understaffing of our department,” says Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, who says the department has 150 vacancies in its budget sworn ranks of 1,970. “We feel that a fully staffed police department provides a better service to the citizens of San Diego."
So it seems remarkable that San Diego's crime rate has declined steadily over the past few years, to three-decade lows.
But is that good fortune waning?
"Violent crime in the city of San Diego so far this year is up 12 and half percent,” notes City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who chairs the council’s Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee. "These are murders, cold-blooded murders. Children are being shot in the streets in our mid-city. Rapes, aggravated assaults -- many of those, domestic violence."
Right now, the infusion of police academy graduates into the force isn't keeping up with retirements and resignations, and the report is pessimistic that the situation will soon change.
In the meantime, other, better-funded law enforcement agencies are looking to poach the cream of the crop.
"So in that regard,” says Marvel, “it's difficult to recruit and retain the highest quality officers, when those are available."
The report also says officers are handling so many calls that they can't do as much pro-active patrolling – far less, according to Marvel, than is suggested by the International Assn. of Police Chiefs.
Moreover, “a significant amount” of the officers’ equipment has exceeded its expected lifetime, and replacement schedules are not being met, according to the report.
The department’s 25-year-old computer-aided dispatch system is cited as “prone to failure” and no longer meeting “acceptable industry standards for high availability or emergency site recovery.”
As for 14 “primary facilities” used on a round-the-clock basis, SDPD’s lack of funding has “diminished” preventive maintenance and put repairs “on a ‘break-fix’ basis” – resulting in a backlog of deferred maintenance “at all police facilities."
"We're way behind the curve, and we have been for years,” Emerald said. “So we've got to get serious about this."
Police are asking for nearly $70 million in new spending over the next five years, including $8 million alone for a new dispatch system.
Emerald’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee takes up the report on Wednesday.
She said one immediate, unencumbered funding source is $28 million from a recent wildfire damage settlement with SDG&E, out of which the committee already is considering earmarking $17 million for new construction and upgrades of Fire-Rescue Dept. facilities and resources.