Four major candidates in the race for San Diego Mayor are seeking the support of the San Diego Police Officers Association. One candidate, Kevin Faulconer, shared his plan to improve the force with NBC 7’s Gene Cubbison.
A key stretch in the race for mayor of San Diego runs past the city's depleted police force.
Four major candidates are seeking the endorsement of the department's rank-and-file officers.
On Monday, one of the contenders came out with a formal plan to shore up the ranks.
"We spend a lot of time training some of the best and brightest men and women out here,” City Councilman Kevin Faulconer told reporters during an early-afternoon briefing on Civic Center Plaza. “And once we train them, we need to keep them here in the city of San Diego. My plan will do that."
In his two winning City Council races, Faulconer was endorsed by the San Diego Police Officers Association (POA.)
One of his rivals, Nathan Fletcher, got the POA's endorsement in last year's mayoral race, when he started as a Republican and switched to Independent.
Now there's a new landscape for the cops to survey.
Faulconer is touting a leadership role in the Council’s recent approval of a recruitment and retention program that's bumped up officer take-home pay, without adding pension benefits.
He’s calling for further boosts, and more investment in staffing and equipment: "We have to insure that among all of the competing priorities, that the attraction and retention of the highest-quality men and women for our police department has to be at the top of our list."
Unfortunately, SDPD has been at the bottom of the heap in terms of salary, benefits and 'officer per capita' ratio among the nation's big city police departments.
Out of 1,800 sworn positions, 135 are vacant.
Some 900 officers are within four years of retirement age, and those taking retirement lately have done so at much earlier ages than in past decades.
City Hall observers say several years of under-funding during the pension crisis created a cycle of instability and temporary fixes.
"Jerry Sanders, the former mayor, actually instituted pay increases for police officers when no other city employees were getting them,” said Lisa Halverstadt, who covers government and civic issues for Voice of San Diego. “His very reason for doing that was, the city was having trouble keeping police officers. So this isn't a new issue."
Will the rank-and-file Police Officers Association see more upside in Faulconer's approach than what his main rivals, Nathan Fletcher and David Alvarez, are putting together?
They all want the group's seal of approval – and for good reason, given its influential standing in the community.
"It's not seen, as many other endorsements, as a union endorsement,” political consultant John Dadian said. “ They call themselves an 'association,' first of all. And quite frankly, people see them as first responders."
In Dadian’s view, the POA is “a strange hybrid. Because on one hand, politically, a lot of the police officers are conservative by philosophy. But on the other hand, they have some liberal bents, because they are a union."
For the candidates, the specifics of their plans and plausible sincerity figure to be paramount to gaining the group's endorsement.
"They're going to have to do a lot of persuading to get the POA to see that this candidate, in fact, is not just going to make the promises, but is going to deliver on them,” Halverstadt predicted. “That's what they're really looking for."
NBC 7 invited campaign handlers for the other major contenders to weigh in Monday on Faulconer's plan.
The candidates will go before the POA's political action committee and board of directors in closed session later this month.
They’ll make their pitches looking not only to get the group’s endorsement, but other riches that tend to flow from it.