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Public Safety Spending Increased In San Diego During Fiscal Year 2020

A Chula Vista police car is pictured in this undated photo.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: A Chula Vista police car is pictured in this undated photo.

Public safety budgets in the San Diego region increased by 5% compared to a year ago, according to a report released Thursday by the San Diego Association of Governments.

More than $2.44 billion was spent on public safety in Fiscal Year 2020, according to SANDAG's report, with roughly one out of every three general fund dollars dedicated to law enforcement for all incorporated cities with individual police departments.

Half of public safety expenditures went to local law enforcement, while the other half was spent on corrections, courts, prosecution, probation, public defense, and other general functions, according to SANDAG. Corrections expenditures was the only category out of the seven studied that did not increase, according to the report.

Overall, local public safety expenditures increased for the third consecutive year, with those increases largely attributed to labor costs, retirement, workers' compensation, information technology, and costs related to COVID-19 impacts.

According to SANDAG, the latter half of Fiscal Year 2020 was significantly affected by the pandemic, emerging discussions regarding public safety reform and increased overtime.

The pandemic resulted in agencies pivoting to meet demands related to staffing, purchasing safety supplies and equipment and other factors. However, cost savings were also realized through canceled training, travel and special events that would normally staff police, as well as precautionary budgeting in light of the potential loss of future sales tax revenues, which included holding off on staff hiring and reducing or eliminating expenses wherever possible.

While most agencies' budgets were finalized prior to public discussions that arose in mid-2020 regarding public safety reform and racial and social equity, the city of San Diego noted that Measure B passed in November, which will create an independent police oversight board. A newly created Office of Equity and Racial Justice was also expected to inform budget processes.

"We found that the common theme across the agencies was the additional focus on addressing racial and social equity," said Dr. Cynthia Burke, SANDAG director of research and program management. "Local agencies shared that they are prioritizing the expansion of de-escalation training and plan on working closely with their respective community leaders and residents to further strengthen trust."

Overtime increased at all but two of the 11 law enforcement agencies in the region. Across all agencies, a total of $96.58 million was budgeted for overtime expenses, but $115.59 million was spent. SANDAG's report says that overtime increases were attributed to various factors, including "the need to direct resources to different demonstrations and protests around the county, as well as the effects of the pandemic."

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