San Diego’s police headquarters and City Hall aren’t that far apart, geographically speaking.
But speaking financially, there’s a big gap between what officers want and what’s on the budget table.
Five years ago, the city launched a long-term plan to increase the number of officers in the police department.
Today, vacancies are piling up faster than ever.
“If the community can’t be reasonably certain that it is safe, then nothing else that the city is going to do really matters,” says Daniel Eaton, a labor law attorney and former ten-year member of the city’s Civil Service Commission.
SDPD is 10 percent below its "budgeted" officer staffing and is often below "minimum" daily staffing.
Vacancies have increased by 25 percent in six months.
The officers' union has just called for a "stop-gap" -- more overtime hours, a request at odds with the mayor’s proposed budget.
The department's shortage crisis has left it with virtually the same number of officers it had back in 2012 when the five-year hiring plan to add 300 officers seemed likely to be accomplished.
Now the "attrition" curve is projected to outpace "additions" by year's end.
The vacancies have created some savings that could go to more overtime and recruitment programs, but applications to join the force have dropped by one-third in the last two years.
Extra overtime costs to insure minimum staffing and retain more officers figure to be a big concern because the mayor's proposed budget would cut overtime spending by 10 percent, and get rid of a compensation boost that mainly goes to uniform allowances.
While elected officials routinely say public safety is their "number one priority", a lot of citizens will grumble over reductions in other public services to better serve that priority.
"You don't want to wait until the breaking point arrives to determine that law enforcement wasn't adequately staffed,” Eaton said in an interview Thursday. “And that's why we pay these politicians to make very, very difficult decisions not knowing what the future holds."
The long-term view isn't very assuring -- one-third of the officers are eligible for retirement over the next five years and their union's labor contract comes up for negotiations in October.