Beefing up San Diego's depleted police force is becoming a top priority at City Hall.
But how to do that cost-effectively may not be as obvious as the need to get it done.
After several years of desperate budget cycles, the Police Department's staffing has shrunk to an officer-to-population ratio that's second lowest of the ten largest U.S. cities.
The situation has caused labor unrest and decimated morale.
Mayor Jerry Sanders, a former police chief (1993-199), says finances are improving.
How much money can be restored to the 'thin blue line'?
"Public safety is a core service of the city; if we do nothing else, we have to keep people safe," says City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who chair's the council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee. "We've got to have a plan. How do we rebuild these entities, these agencies, so that they truly serve the community?"
SDPD academy classes used to be full of recruits, before budget cuts curtailed them -- and prompted hundreds of veteran officers to take jobs at other agencies, or retire.
Rank-and-file officers, through the San Diego Police Officers Association, have taken to the airwaves with TV and radio commercials appealing for public support, and taken to the streets with picket signs, complaining about non-competitive wages and benefits.
Now, four times as many are leaving the department as new recruits who are joining it.
Some 135 budgeted positions are vacant.
The department's ABLE chopper squadron is only flying six hours a day, instead of ten.
"There are a lot of deficiencies in terms of what we haven't invested," says City Councilman David Alvarez "We have to talk about making sure our police stations are adequate -- that the infrastructure's in place, that they have all the resources we need."
The Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee is now embarking on a 5-year plan to restore police service levels, looking to appoint a broad working group of city officials, department ‘brass’, and SDPOA leaders.
The mayor's office is pledging full cooperation in working out funding priorities, as it has done with a strategy for new fire stations.
The hope on the Council is that Sanders, who's been the city's 'Strong Mayor' chief executive for the last six years, will see eye-to-eye with them on the police force strategy.
"And," says Emerald, "it isn't just 'Strong Mayor', it's 'Strong Council'. We have a balance. And this council needs to learn to flex its muscles. And that's what we're doing."
Despite the short staffing, SDPD is delivering a lot of 'bang' for fewer bucks.
On Thursday, according to the mayor's office, the department will break out statistics that show San Diego's overall crime rate last year was lower than any year since the 1960s.