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Addressing SDPD's Retention Problem Begins With More Pay, Officers Say

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman talks about a federal investigation of the San Diego Police Department as Mayor Kevin Faulconer stands beside her on March 24, 2014.
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman talks about a federal investigation of the San Diego Police Department as Mayor Kevin Faulconer stands beside her on March 24, 2014.

Addressing SDPD's Retention Problem Begins With More Pay, Officers Say
Addressing SDPD's Officer Retention Problem Begins With Pay, Officers Say GUESTS:Brian Marvel is the president of the San Diego Police Officers Association. Shelley Zimmerman is the San Diego Police Department chief.

TOM FUDGE: Our top story on Midday Edition, the San Diego Police Department is a lean operation, and it has been that way for a long time. The SDPD has only 1.5 officers for every 1,000 residents, in LA it is 2.5 per thousand but another fact about the short money we pay to run a police department has been causing a huge problem of attrition. The problem are the salaries we say San Diego cops. A city funded survey has shown that San Diego officers are last or next to last in salaries paid at nearly every rank compared to every other 18 California jurisdictions. Just one example, a police recruit it paid $46,000 in San Diego and in Anaheim a new officer makes $76,000. Just over the past fiscal year the department has lost over 162 officers reducing its force to 1,872 sworn officers. What can we do to correct San Diego's uncompetitive position which is causing this big attrition problem? Well, joining me to answer that question are Chief Shelley Zimmerman and Brian Marvel. Chief Zimmerman is the San Diego Police Department Police Chief and Chief Zimmerman thank you for coming in. POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Thank you for having us, I appreciate that. TOM FUDGE: And Brian Marvel is President of the San Diego Police Officers Association, the police union in San Diego. Brian, thanks to you. BRIAN MARVEL: Thanks for having me. TOM FUDGE: Well, Chief Zimmerman um, why was this report put together and what did the city why did the city think it was important? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I think it was an important report and I'm grateful to Mayor Faulkner forum, having this report that was done because it shows exactly what we need to do to make sure we remain competitive and I know the Mayor is committed to making sure we are competitive in this market for police officers. TOM FUDGE: Well, what was your take on this report? I tried to describe it a little bit, how would you describe it? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Well, it goes to everything we have been saying over the years, for many years we hired in just few numbers and we were losing officers to other agencies and entities out there and for one year we didn't hire any police officers for about a year and it is true that last year we were able to hire 100 police officers which is a large number and that costs a lot of millions of dollars, but unfortunately we lost 162. So at the end of all of that, we were negative two. So this year I'm grateful to Mayor Faulkner and his budget that we are going to be able to hire 173 police officers but we need to keep them. TOM FUDGE: Well, give us a perspective on those 162 officers that left. How many of them retired? And how many of those were lost to other departments? Do you know how much approximately? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: You know, the breakdown on that, the last fiscal year of those 162, 17 went to other law enforcement agencies that we know of. We know there was more. When our officer’s leave it is not required they tell us exactly why they are leaving. It is not just going to other law enforcement agencies, but many of them left to be security directors at other corporations taking our trained experience professional officers, taking their talent and going to other entities, so we need to make sure we keep our professionally trained police officers working at the San Diego Police Department. TOM FUDGE: Brian Marvel, what message did you take from this report? BRIAN MARVEL: Well, it really just reaffirmed what we have been saying for many years regarding our compensation. It has been a battle. We have been fighting with the city and trying to go get our message out there. We are very appreciative of the Mayor and the City Council wanting to get salary survey done. I believe this should be done on a more regular basis just so we can stay in line compensation wise with other agencies throughout the county and the state. TOM FUDGE: If you had to point out one thing in the report to somebody to crystalize the message, what would you say? BRIAN MARVEL: Well, there was 18 cities were um analyzed and obviously us being the 19th, we were 19 out of 19, which is very telling. We had financial issues facing the city of San Diego. We are turning the page and I definitely think we need to move forward with a solid solution on this. TOM FUDGE: Were there Chief Zimmerman, were there any surprises in this report? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: I was not surprised about it. It just confirms everything we were saying. Just to let everybody know what the makeup of our police department is right now we do have currently and these numbers are correct as of today, 1872 police officers our budgeted staffing is 2013, so we are 141 below our budgeted staffing currently today even being able to hire these officers and we are trying to go get back to our 2009 staffing. So it would put us 250 officers below what we are trying to get back to. It is all to make sure we give the best police officer services possible. The last report I got was that our response times are increasing and that our proactive time is um, it is decreasing so that's not what we want to see. We want to see the response time’s decrease and our proactive time increase. TOM FUDGE: It is interesting to me that just about everybody I talked to says this report just confirmed what we already knew, how is this report now that it is written going to be used? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Well, again we are grateful to Mayor Faulkner and talking with him and the City Council. I know the POA are in discussion about what exactly is going to be done. I know that the Mayor and the Council are committed to doing everything that they can. We are going to need more take home pay to make sure that our officers stay working at our department. TOM FUDGE: And you are listening to Midday Edition, I am talking to Chief Shelley Zimmerman with the San Diego Police Department and with Brian Marvel, he is President of the San Diego Police Officers Association, and we are talking about a survey which shows that San Diego police officers are paid very low, as a matter of fact, their wages are rock bottom in many cases in a survey of 19 different police departments. It is kind of interesting to me that Shelley Zimmerman you are a Police Chief and Brian you are a union leader for the police. I would normally expect you to be adversarial in your relationship, but do is it fair to say that both of you agree that salaries need to go up. BRIAN MARVEL: Absolutely. This is one of the things that is unique in their situation, the chief obviously has the best interest of the public safety and making sure we have a strong department, that's the same as us. We want a very strong department. We recognize that a safe community is a vibrant community. TOM FUDGE: Chief Zimmerman anything from you on that? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: I completely agree. We are committed to providing the very best police services possible for all of our communities and in order to do that we need to have experienced police officers. The demographics of our department right now, as of today we have more than 400 police officers are eligible to retire, but on the other spectrum is that more than half of our officers that are working patrol have six or fewer years in our police department. TOM FUDGE: A lot of young officers out there. POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Inexperienced yes, and in some cases it is closer to 70 percent of that experience having six or fewer years in our department. So, it is critically important that we continue to hire, but to remind our public just because you graduated from the police academy on day one, it doesn't mean you have the skill set ready to be the next homicide detective on day two. It takes years to build that up. We are talking about succession planning and we are committed to the Police Officers Association myself and I know the Mayor is committed too to making sure we have the best police department. TOM FUDGE: Well, it is good to hear that you are working together with the union and you are both working together with the Mayor's Office, what can be done? What action can be taken in San Diego to solve this problem without raising taxes and simply getting more revenue to pay police officers? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: There is going to be rolling out a plan here very soon about for for quite frankly more dollars and take home pay for our officers because it is going to come down to that. Our officers don't have to move, they don't have to take their kids out of school. All they have to do is change the uniform to another local Law Enforcement Agency and in many cases they are making more than a thousand dollars, take home pay than they did working for the San Diego Police Department. So, it is going to take money to do this, but I know everybody is committed to making sure that our department is the very best. TOM FUDGE: Brian Marvel, what do you want to say to that? BRIAN MARVEL: Yeah, I agree, you know it is really going to come down to prioritization. I know there are a couple of problems facing the city regarding infrastructure, you have to look at police as being a part of that infrastructure, and we are you know trying to figure out if we are in a ten foot hole or a six foot hole? And how the City Council and Mayor going to prioritize making sure that the police department is fully staffed? TOM FUDGE: Is there a chance I mean I talked about the possibility of I don't know issuing a bond or raising taxes, as difficult as this is in San Diego, are there other options? Is it possible to take money from one department in order to enhance police salaries? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: I know the Mayor is looking at his entire budget for this. I was grateful again that a big priority was to make sure that we can hire 173 police officers this year, which is a huge commitment, and the Mayor knows as we all know that we must keep them here. He has said that, we are looking forward to see exactly what is going to be done because this report just confirms that something must be done. TOM FUDGE: Okay. We probably heard this from you already, when do we expect to hear from Mayor Faulkner on this issue? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Well, I know that he is committed and I know he is already speaking with the Police Officers Association regarding what that is going to look like and we all anticipate that in the very near future to have something that we will be able to roll out to make sure that we are keeping our best police officers here working at the San Diego Police Department. BRIAN MARVEL: Just to add to that, I did talk about that the city is turning the page. There are projections of surpluses over the next five years. It is definitely something that can be tapped in and hopefully added to the police department. TOM FUDGE: Okay. Well, just a few more fact from the survey we have talked about from the 18 different cities in California and San Diego. Police salaries are at the bottom in just about every situation. Up in San Francisco a Police Lieutenant makes almost $150,000 a year, and I think in San Diego, it is about what Brian? $86,000 or something like that? BRIAN MARVEL: Police Lieutenants are probably about the $115,000 or $120,000 mark. TOM FUDGE: Okay, but it is $150,000 up in San Francisco. Just up the coast in Carlsbad a Police Sergeant makes about $10,000 more than a Sergeant, now Chief Zimmerman are those where you are losing a lot of officers to suburban areas of San Diego County where they pay more to police? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: You know a lot of our officers have gone to other local agencies, but we have lost some in the Los Angeles area and in the Bay area. You know our officers are, you know, they know exactly what we make here and they know what officers make in other areas currently locally and also throughout the state, and it is no secret. They are out there comparing, and it is a very competitive market out there for police officers and you know every agency wants to hire the very best. TOM FUDGE: Brian Marvel, is salary the only reason that San Diego has a high attrition rate, are there any other issues out there we should talk about? BRIAN MARVEL: I know we talk about salary, I would like to talk about the total compensation package is a really big difference. I know the chief pointed out earlier there are competitive agencies within the county that are drawing our officers. People also have to recognize that we are a military town, there are folks that are not native from San Diego. There is a huge capital investment involved in hiring a police officer and training them for the first year. There is also we have to keep those officers here in San Diego, we don't want them going off to other areas in the United States. TOM FUDGE: Okay. Well, Chief Zimmerman we are almost out of time and we have got another question for you so that is not about police salaries, and in the next segment of Midday we are going to talk about next week’s passage of Proposition 47 which will reduce many nonviolent and drug related felonies to misdemeanors in California. Will, that change or effect in some way the way that police officers have to do their jobs? POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: You know, and I will tell you that I was very outspoken against Proposition 47, but I wanted to assure the public we are completely commit today providing and keeping all of our communities safe. But yes, we have already had to do training for our police officers because by taking some felonies and now making them misdemeanors, it is impacting how we are able to make arrests. Now, if the misdemeanor is not committed in our presence, what we need to do in order to book something into jail. So things and procedures have already changed and we have already had to do lineup training to our officers regarding that and we will have to wait and see the impact on this. I have some concerns, but I want the public to know that our police department and all police departments that they are completely committed to providing the best service to protect all of our communities that are out there. I ask the public like I would for any situation, if you see something say something. Please call us. TOM FUDGE: Well, my guests have been Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and Police Chief of the San Diego Police Department and thank you very much for coming in. POLICE CHIEF SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: Thanks for having us. TOM FUDGE: Thanks to Brian Marvel, he's a sworn officer and President of the San Diego Police Officers Association. The police officers’ union and Officer Marvel, thank you very much. BRIAN MARVEL: Thank you.

The San Diego Police Department is a lean operation, and it's been that way for a long time. Since budget cuts in 2009 forced the department to downsize it's sworn personnel, the agency has struggled to beef up its ranks.

Officers are increasing leaving the San Diego agency at a record rate. Just last year, more officers left the department than were hired. In September, a report by the Independent Budget Analyst found the department's monthly departure rate was on pace to result in another net loss of officers. The monthly rate has since slowed, but so far this fiscal year, 45 officers have left the department.

San Diego Police Officers Association President Brian Marvel said the high rate of departures is due to officers' low pay. Last week, a city-funded statewide survey of officer compensation confirmed this. The study showed that San Diego officers are last or next to last in salaries paid at nearly every rank, compared to 18 other California law enforcement agencies.

In light of the report's findings, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he is committed to finding a solution to the problem.

San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman agreed.

"In a very competitive market for police officers this study confirms we must immediately address these challenges as we move forward as a department to ensure we attract and retain the very best police officers who proudly serve our City,” she said in a statement.

Zimmerman nor Faulconer proposed specifics to address the problem, but Marvel said he hopes to work with city leaders “to develop a compensation package."

Addressing SDPD's Retention Problem Begins With More Pay, Officers Say