In the wake of civilian staff cuts at the San Diego Police Department, the performance of the department's Permits & Licensing Unit has taken a turn for the worse, according to the city auditor's office.
In a just-issued report to the City Council's Audit Committee, Auditor Eduardo Luna says approximately $300,000 worth of fines and penalties went unassessed over a three-year period.
Some required background checks weren't made before permits were issued.
Businesses were allowed to operate without permits -- in three cases, for longer than 18 months.
And, the unit “is having difficulty” maintaining records of money collected.
"Opportunities exist to improve internal controls, departmental practices and policies for regulating vice activities," Luna said in his report.
San Diego police license and regulate 33 different industries, from small strip clubs to big nightclubs.
From gun dealerships and security alarm systems to swap meets, pawn shops and a variety of other businesses.
Some 4,200 permits and licenses, a small fraction of the total, require inspections and/or background checks.
The job used to be done by 10 civilian staffers, with help from vice detectives.
But city budget cuts in fiscal 2009-2010 eliminated those positions, with five uniformed officers taking over from scratch.
The department's priority at the time was to retain as many sworn personnel as possible, and the Permits & Licensing officers have been on call for emergencies -- most recently serving during the Sept. 8th regional power outage and Occupy San Diego events that began Oct. 7th.
That arrangement apparently hasn't worked too well.
The auditor's office recommends 15 operational and administrative changes -- for example, reassigning the processing of paperwork and collection of license and permit fees, fines and penalties.
"Those typical tasks, you don't readily see in a police department," said Asst. City Auditor Chris Constantin, in an interview Thursday. "Those tasks can be moved over to a department that's an expert in that field, and that's the office of the city treasurer."
Police brass generally agree with the recommendations.
"You know, the bottom line is," said Lt. Chuck Kaye, who heads SDPD's Vice Unit, "we worked with the auditor's office; we had them in the office. We worked together to identify some of the operational issues. We've made corrections."
The audit report says more corrections are needed.
It appears that certain decisions will have made by the mayor's office.
And, that there will be input from the City Council.
"We've got to make sure we're getting value," says Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who chairs the Audit Committee. "And as you look at which jobs that are performed by civilians as opposed to uniformed officers, you want to make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck on that."
The auditor's office also says the city should consider regulating key duplicators, as is done in Los Angeles, and security system dealers, as is done in Seattle.
In San Diego over a 3-year-period, false alarms involving the clients of one dealer alone ran up about $1 million in police response time costs.