As San Diego's police department keeps losing officers as fast as it can hire new ones, police union leaders are now suggesting a plan to retain or re-hire officers past their retirement dates.
Would that be enough to beef up the "Thin Blue Line"?
Despite an increase in wages and benefits, SDPD's attrition rate is still a major issue.
Retirement and greener pastures at other law enforcement agencies are taking a toll on the department's strength.
The San Diego Police Officers Association thinks a bill working its way through New Mexico's legislature could be a model for what might help the cause here.
The chairwoman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee says she welcomes this kind of brainstorming.
"We need to be bold if we want to get a handle on this problem, because it's serious -- very serious,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald told NBC 7 in an interview Monday. “We're more than 200 officers shy now of what's budgeted. And that makes a huge difference on the streets. Especially when we have a smaller contingent of officers out there and more issues happening."
SDPD'S officer-per-capita ratio is among the lowest of the nation's police departments, and its salaries-and-benefits package hasn't exactly been helpful to recruiting and retention efforts.
In the absence of better financial incentives, SDPOA leaders have been sounding out the New Mexico approach through avenues at City Hall.
They're not necessarily seeking to lure retired officers back to the force -- although they wouldn't entirely rule that out.
"No one that I spoke to specifically mentioned that instance,” says Voice of San Diego reporter Andrew Keatts, who’s received background briefings from those close to preliminary talks. “They were seeming, in the conversations we had, to aim this for the people who were working now, going to retire soon -- when that day comes -- to have an opportunity to say 'Hey, you want to stick around for another year, two years, up to five years'?"
Meantime, mayoral candidate Ed Harris is making a campaign issue of short-staffing in public safety departments, saying it's the mayor's problem to solve.
"So why is the union coming to management and telling them how to manage?" Harris asked, rhetorically, in an interview with NBC 7. "I'm a huge fan of the police officers, and the union does a good job. But there's management, and there's unions. And you need to step forward and manage. That's what leadership is about -- managing the city, strong-mayor form of government. Kevin, start managing."
In response, the mayor's campaign forwarded this statement from SDPOA President Brian Marvel:
"Mayor Faulconer has done more to help recruit and retain police officers than any other elected official. Without his efforts to gain bipartisan and unanimous approval of a new police contract last year, we would be in a much more difficult position. Thanks to Mayor Faulconer's leadership, we are well positioned to resolve our department's staffing crisis."
One big question, in the event the idea comes to pass: Would it be implemented in time to forestall Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman's mandatory retirement in March, 2018 under the so-called "DROP" program?