Gaslamp Quarter

Understaffed Department Can Keep Gaslamp Safe Over Fourth of July Weekend: SDPD Chief

One of the busiest places to be this holiday weekend is the Gaslamp Quarter, but given police department staff shortages, there have been concerns about whether or not it’s safe.

Just last Friday two women were shot by a stray bullet. They were collateral damage in a fight that broke out at F Street and 5th Avenue.

Starting the summer off with a shooting in the Gaslamp Quarter may seem ominous but Police Chief David Nisleit said this July Fourth weekend it’s all hands on deck.

“You are going to see a presence of officers in cars for the Gaslamp, you are always going to see a presence on bike,” Chief Nisleit said.

Nisleit said the 16 blocks of bars restaurants and shops that make the Gaslamp Quarter are patrolled at night by two teams of bike officers.

San Diego police say two groups of people were fighting in downtown when someone in the group pulled a gun and fired, hitting two innocent bystanders. NBC 7's Allison Ash has details.

“They’re more visual they are, more fluid in their movement, they can respond in a much quicker fashion,” Nisleit said.

Executive Director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, Michael Trimble, says it is an effective force at night, but there is a gap.

“Earlier in the day it has been a challenge,” Trimble said.

Trimble says response times during slower periods have been disappointing.

“It could be a combination of just general theft, people taking things from merchants or potentially homeless individuals that are unstable wondering around causing trouble,” he said.

Chief Nisleit says the department’s emergency response times average at 6 minutes, 6 seconds. That’s nearly one minute under national standards. The police response to last Friday’s shooting was under a minute, according to Nisleit.

“If it is a low-level crime or a disturbance, we have a priority system, so if something keeps coming in higher priority, yeah, that’s going to lengthen our response,” the chief explained.

Trimble says there are three levels of security in the Gaslamp. Individual businesses higher private security and so does the Gaslamp Quarter association, and then there are police. That combined with streets closed off to traffic five days a week makes the Gas Lamp a safer destination.

Residents are split, however.

“We’ve seen some random violence, of course, but I don’t feel unsafe in the Gaslamp,” Walsh said.

Walsh and his wife walk their dog through the Gaslamp at all hours of the day and night, but he calls the police presence underwhelming, and Nisleit says there’s a reason.

“We’re understaffed,” Nisleit said. “We’re down about 160 officers I believe, right around there. Obviously, I want to fill those positions.”

According to the SDPD’s June 27 Staff report obtained by NBC 7, there are approximately 1,890 sworn officers on the department, but that number includes 87 academy trainees, 84 field training officers and 143 officers on leave for medical, military disability and more. It also includes administrative officers and detectives as well.

“When it comes down to staffing, you call, and they don’t come for an extended period of time that could be a problem,” Trimble said.

Nisleit acknowledges his department is short staffed but says San Diego remains statistically one of the safest big cities in the nation and expects the Gaslamp to reflect that this July Fourth weekend.

The San Diego Police Officers Association recently agreed to a 10% raise in police salaries over the next two years to retain officers, plus recruitment incentives to attract new ones.

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