Shorthanded and Shortchanged in Pay, Will SDPD Officers Stay the Course?

The situation is a huge concern at City Hall, even as the "thin blue line" has done an outsized job, tamping down the city's crime rate

 San Diego's long-understaffed police department is now ticket for reinforcements and extra pay -- but it may take more than what's on the table to reverse an exodus of officers

The situation is a huge concern at City Hall, even as the "thin blue line" has done an outsized job, tamping down the city's crime rate.

But half the force – which has been maintained well below its “budgeted” number of positions -- could join a surge of retirees over the next four years.

And hiring isn't keeping pace with departures, as many younger officers leave for better-paying agencies.

"The other agencies can now cherry-pick from our department and not have to pay the investment of having to send someone to the Police Academy -- getting them trained up,” said Brian Marvel, president of the 1,800-member San Diego Police Officers Association.

"We anticipate by the time the sheriff's contract is in full effect by FY 18 -- our contract ends in fiscal year 2018 -- the difference between a 'top-step' deputy and a P-O 2 will be about $17,000," Marvel added.

That won't be easy for officers with a few years on the force to ignore.

The Sheriff's Department and Chula Vista P-D offer $5,000 signing bonuses for "lateral transfers."

SDPD officers could be sorely tempted, having seen compensation reductions last year, never mind a restoration of working-holiday overtime pay, called for in Mayor Faulconer's budget for the new fiscal year July 1.

"The city hasn't made the investment that it needs to in the police department, and we're changing that,” Faulconer said in an interview Monday. “We're putting the focus on both recruiting, upping our academies, to make sure we get the best and brightest men and women possible. But also on the retention of them to make sure we train them, invest those dollars, so they stay in SDPD."

While new academy classes will take 172 recruits a year – a bonanza compared to many years in the recent past – the washout rate has been 27 percent.

It’s not a trend guaranteed to make up losses such as 130 officers this fiscal year, as projected by the SDPOA.

“This is a crisis,” said Marti Emerald, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods Committee. “We have got to be effective now in bringing new officers on and paying a competitive wage so that they can take paychecks home that are comparable to the paychecks of law enforcement in other agencies. We must do this.”

Over the years, law enforcement salary surveys statewide show San Diego in the bottom tier of major-agency listings.

Another one is expected to be completed by August.

SDPOA's rank-and-file anticipate the same results -- hoping they'll lead to early bargaining talks with the city about further incentives.

“If the city wants to work to continue on this, we’ll be there with them,” says Marvel. “We want to make this happen, we want the best people to come to our agency and be the best they possibly can, to make this the best city in the state.”

Said Emerald: “I think this mayor understands what’s at stake. He recognizes the importance of what we’re trying to do … and I believe that once that compensation information comes in, that he and his staff will be willing to sit down early.”

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