While faced with a significant police staffing crisis, the city has offered to boost pay up to 30 percent for San Diego police officers.
This year the San Diego Police Department's employment numbers plummeted to its lowest point since 1989. Brian Marvel, President of the San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA), said that the department went 10 years without a salary increase, wreaking havoc on recruitment efforts.
“We are at a critically low level and 240 vacancies below what we are budgeted for," said SDPD Lt. Scott Wahl.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer brokered a two-year agreement with the SDPOA Board of Directors Tuesday, in an effort to make officers' salaries more competitive and improve retention.
“The reality is, that we were losing police officers at an alarming rate to other police departments," said Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. "We were having difficulty recruiting in this very highly-competitive market for police officers.”
Fewer than 1,800 police officers currently remaining in the City of San Diego will now vote on whether to approve the tentative agreement. A shrinking police force has led to slower response times among other public safety issues.
"This has been one of my top priorities–to make sure that we get more officers in the door, once they’re in the door, that we keep them," said Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “This new contract will go a long way to ensuring this for many years to come.”
In order to keep SDPD pay competitive, there will be further compensation increases on top of those previously approved in the final two years through Fiscal Year 2020.
However, 6.6 percent of the raises in the newly proposed agreement were already part of the city's prior labor agreement from 2015. Compared to the previous contract, the amount of new money is roughly between 19 and 24 percent.
"This is going to make a huge difference, to make sure that we retain our highly-experienced police officers, but also, very importantly, be able to attract the very best to our police department," added Zimmerman.
If approved, the contract will go before the City Council for final authorization. The salary increases would be implemented starting July 1.
“This contract is an important step in addressing this ongoing crisis," said Councilmember Chris Cate, in a statement.
Officers may receive raises ranging from about 25 to 30 percent over the two-year agreement, depending on their experience and future negotiations.
“With this, and a commitment to maintaining higher staffing levels, we can rebuild SDPD into a strong, stable department, capable of providing the quality public safety services that our citizens deserve," said Marvel, in a statement.
The goal of the agreement is to retain officers in the long run, lead to taxpayer savings and improve public safety, according to the association.
Back in 2015, Faulconer reached a five-year deal with the police association that gave officers a 6.6 percent increase in take-home pay for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020. This new offer will rewrite those fiscal years but maintain voter-mandated pension reform.
Every year, the SDPD receives an average of 4,000 applications. During the long and intense hiring process, only about 100 of those applicants are accepted.
While gaining only 90 to 120 officers a year, the department has simultaneously lost about 150 officers a year.
Marvel has previously said that the chronic police officer shortage was a result of insufficient compensation and benefits.
"Clearly, it's pay and benefits," said Marvel, in a previous statement.
The current starting salary for an SDPD officer is $49,428. Compare that to $54,564 for Escondido police, $56,240 for San Diego County Sheriff's deputies, $71,195 for Carlsbad police and $75,322 for Chula Vista police. Those numbers were confirmed by each municipality and the county.
One resident of Pacific Beach, Alyssa Neubarth, told NBC 7 she likes the idea of having more officers on the force to keep her children safe.
"If they don't have enough people to help out, response times might be slower, and in those few, critical first moments, minutes are everything," said Neubarth. “We’re really worried about safety just because we hear, you know, just on the news, about kids being snatched from the most random places like a convenience store or a department store."
Faulconer said the potential pay increase was long overdue, and the real benefit will be in San Diego's neighborhoods.
"There’s a lot of peace of mind knowing that we’re on the right track to get more police in our area and get numbers up," said Neubarth.