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San Diego Police Department Keeps Losing Officers

A San Diego police car sits outside of a house Bay Terraces where a family of...
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Above: A San Diego police car sits outside of a house Bay Terraces where a family of four was found dead in and around the house on May 24, 2011.

The San Diego Police Department is continuing to lose officers, some to nearby agencies, despite the enactment of a five-year contract that boosted take-home pay, Chief Shelley Zimmerman said Wednesday.

At a meeting of the City Council's Budget Committee, Zimmerman said the police department is budgeted for 2,036 officers during this fiscal year, but has only 1,838 in the fold — a shortage of 198. Of those, more than 100 are in academies or field training, she said.

The police department has lost 102 officers since the beginning of the fiscal year July 1, with at least 18 going to nearby law enforcement agencies, according to the chief.

She said the attrition rate works out to 13 officers a month. The losses are partially offset by new recruits.

"We're losing them quicker than we can hire," Zimmerman told the committee members.

Officers have been leaving the police department several years now for the Sheriff's Department, smaller city police departments in the region, and state and federal positions that offer better employee compensation.

City officials tried to stem the tide with the new contract with the San Diego Police Officers Association. Besides boosting take-home pay immediately, the deal bumps up salaries 3.3 percent in each of the final two years.

Questioned on whether the agreement is proving effective, the SDPD chief called it "helpful."

"We'd be in worse shape without the new (contract)," Zimmerman said.

She said officers are leaving for a variety of issues, not just pay.

The department also has 64 fewer civilian employees than it could have, including 25 in communications — the dispatchers who are in radio contact with officers in the field, according to the chief.

Speaking on a separate item, Ed Harris, the former councilman who heads the lifeguards union, said about one-quarter of the sergeants in the city lifeguard service are expected to leave in the next year and a half.

Several highly experienced boat operators, who work on the river rescue team, are also expected to terminate their employment, according to Harris.

He made his comments while speaking in favor of a multi-year extension of a marketing agreement between the city and Toyota, which provides the lifeguard service with 34 vehicles, along with maintenance. The deal, which could save the city up to $4 million, was unanimously supported by the committee and forwarded to the full City Council for final approval.

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