Despite higher officer pay, benefits and recruiting pushes, San Diego Police Department (SDPD) is still a revolving door.
The force is among the most lightly-staffed urban law enforcement agencies in the country.
As of June 30, SDPD was running a nine percent deficit of "sworn officers" – empty, but budgeted job slots, according to a department report to the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.
Those in uniform included administrative and training officers, light-duty personnel, and 143 men and women still in the academy or "field training".
"Now if you take those numbers and boil it down to the people that are actually on the street, doing the job, it's not much higher. It's pretty close to the number that were on the street when I was hired forty years ago," said retired SDPD Sgt. Bill Nemec.
As a past president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, Nemec is quite familiar with department staffing and funding issues and he worries that the city's cost-containment priorities are robbing the force of experienced, "tenured" officers who are relied on to train those with less time in the field.
Even with hiring sprees, the city loses a lot of applicants who get conditional job offers, but opt out to work for other agencies instead; 22 did that last fiscal year alone.
On a yearly basis, the department is losing a dozen officers a month, many retiring from an aging force.
Observers say San Diego's crime problems, fortunately, aren't so severe that the work itself is causing an attrition rate that’s so challenging to keep up with.
"I think the thing I'd like to see more from the city is a clear description of what is driving 'leaving the force', so we can have a clear understanding of whether the proposals to change it and fix it are actually going to work,” says Andrew Keatts, who has reported extensively on SDPD issues for NBC 7’s media partner Voice of San Diego.
“I don't know how you can prescribe solutions if you haven't diagnosed the problem completely quite yet,” Keatts added in an interview Thursday.
So far, there has been no response to NBC 7’s requests for input from the offices of the mayor, police chief, or Police Officers Association.
While raises and recruiting efforts are targeting a shortage of dispatchers, resulting in 18 recent hirings, there also a nine percent deficit of civilian employees in the department.