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San Diego Police Freeze Recruiting To Cut Costs

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Aired 1/20/11

Belt tightening by the City of San Diego has reduced police-force staffing by about 270 positions in the last two years.

— When the next regional police academy class starts at Miramar College on Monday, it will not include any San Diego Police Department recruits. Thanks to a hiring freeze, there were no recruits in the October class and there are no plans for hires to begin in the April session, either.

When this fiscal year began last July, 133 vacant positions were cut from the department’s budget. Since then, 135 more positions have gone unfilled, leaving the department with 1,856 staff members.

Losing more than 10 percent of its staff has forced the department to prioritize.

“Our number-one goal is to respond to emergency calls for service,” said Shelley Zimmerman, assistant chief of police. “So, we’ve done our very best to keep our patrol staffing up and we’ve been able to accomplish that. But certainly it’s been at the detriment of other units.”

The department has cut its mounted and harbor units and decreased its recruiting and canine staff. Those officers have been assigned to patrol and other units.

With the county on steadier financial footing than the city, the Sheriff’s Department will send at least 16 recruits to next week's academy.

“Every year we’ll have a certain number of retirements and unfortunately sometimes people get hurt and they have to medically retire," Zimmerman said. "So, things happen, so we’re generally in a constant hiring state.”

It costs the San Diego Police Department more than $100,000 to put a single recruit through the six-month training academy, according to Zimmerman. She said those recruits make a starting salary of $37,600.

A reduced police force doesn’t seem to have made San Diego less safe. As of November, the city had an annual crime rate of 27.32 crimes per thousand residents – its lowest since 1963.

But according to Zimmerman, the freeze doesn’t just mean fewer officers, it also means missed opportunities.

“We have some excellent candidates are out there (who) want to be San Diego police officers and because we’re not hiring we have lost some just absolute, excellent candidates to other agencies,” she said.

The San Diego Fire Department has also frozen recruiting for the time being. Maurice Luque, the department’s spokesman, said with fire engine brownouts in place the department has more firefighters than it can use on a daily basis.

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