Police Chief Lansdowne Defends Request For Increased Budget
CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition is the debate over whether the San Diego police department really needs a big budget boost. Earlier this month, the department requested an increase of $66 million over the next five years. Critics including those heard on Midday Edition Roundtable question both the boost and the reasons the department says it's critical to San Diego. San Diego police chief William Lansdowne, welcome to the show. LANSDOWNE: I'm very happy to be here. CAVANAUGH: Assistant chief Shelly Zimmerman also joins us. Welcome. ZIMMERMAN: Thank you very much for having us. CAVANAUGH: Your report to the City Council public safety committee two years ago requested about $11.6 million annually. Make the case for us. Why does the department need the increase? LANSDOWNE: We've been downsizing the police department for a number of years because of some of the critical financial problems, and we were forced to downsize the mounted unit, a lot of the civilian staffing within the police department, cut back on the hours that we are able to floor the helicopter. And now it's time as we look into the future to come up with a graduated program over a five year period to replace the numbers of authorized personnel within the police department. They've already been approved, we just haven't gotten there. It's very well thought out, well documented for our able to provide better service to the community of San Diego. They're asking for more service, and we're in a position, I believe, to provide that over a five-year window, which can be modified. You can accept some of it, all of it, or none of it. CAVANAUGH: When you say authorized personnel, explain that for us. What do you mean? LANSDOWNE: These are positions that are already in the budget but not filled in the San Diego police department. They have been there for a while because we didn't have the money to do that. In order to do what's best about law enforcement, to do preventive policing, you've got to have people to be able to do that, provide the level of service necessary to really provide the environment that everybody in San Diego appreciates and asks for. CAVANAUGH: Now, even with the budget cuts that the San Diego police department has been hit with during the last few years, the trend is that the crime rate is down. It's down over the last, I think eight years. It's kept going down since the 1990s. Why then should the City of San Diego invest more money in the police department when the crime rate continues to go down? LANSDOWNE: If it was only the crime rate, I would agree with. But it's not the rate, it's the services we provide. As you look at the downsizing of government across the State of California and certainly within the county of San Diego, social services cut back, mental health services cut back, the first call and first responders at 3:00 AM is going to be the police department. And you want a department that's well managed, trained, and staffed to be able to provide services because we, the police department, are one of the very last government agencies that still will come to your home for almost any reason to assist you with your issues and problems. And there are lots of people that need our service, and they need it quickly, and that's what this is all about, getting set up and ready for the next five years, and the needs for the community of San Diego. CAVANAUGH: Assistant chief Zimmerman, one of the big takeaways, one of headlines that same out of this public safety hearing where the police department presented its package for a budget boost was the fact that it was said that the crime rate for the last five months has increased. There's been a lot of flack about that, saying that's too short a time to sort of say that there's any increase in crime or that we're at a tipping point. Do you believe that was a fair number to bring in, that 12% increase in crime? ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely it was fair. As managers on the police department, we look at many different factors. And just one of them was the crime rate. And it had been down for many years. And it was alarming to see in this the first five months of this year compared to last year that it was up 12.6% because part of our responsibility is to take a look at those trends, and if we can jump on them quickly, and that was the whole point of what chief Lansdowne was saying, being able to prevent it before it happen, before it becomes a statistic. So we hook at the crime stats every month, two months, five months. We look at them every single night and go ahead and deploy our resources to the best of our abilities in order to reduce the crime as much as we can or to prevent it. CAVANAUGH: It has been pointed out though from fiscal year to fiscal year, there is a slight reduction in the amount of crime in San Diego between the fiscal year 2011 and the fiscal year 2012. So I think that the criticism has been you pluck out the numbers for that five month period to support this increase in the departmental budget request. ZIMMERMAN: We look at the stats the same way that we do every single year. This is the methodology that we use every year. And something to keep in mind too is that we have significantly fewer police officers and civilian personal now to respond to those crime trends. And that's a very significant part of this in order to be able to anticipate where we need our resources. And in order to reduce the crime as much as we can, we actually move resources from one area of the city to another area of the city to keep our violent crime down, and even after doing that, after all the efficiencies that we have had, it was alarming to see that crime was up 12.6% in the first five months. CAVANAUGH: Would you like to address the criticism of using that statistic during the public safety commit I to support a request for a budget increase? LANSDOWNE: If you're criticizing the report rebuilding the San Diego police department, based on the crime levels, you're not reading the report well. There seems to be an attitude that this is as good as it gets, that as you look at the crime rate, there's an acceptable level of crime. Our job is to try to prevent crime, and you can't do that without people, and the people are what makes it happen to. Put together a system to be able to do that. But there are some alarming numbers as we looked at the first five months, and I looked at the ones just today, there's a 130% increase in the number of gang homicides in the City of San Diego just in the first six months of this year. And those are disturbing numbers for us to deal with. To manage that, you have to have people in place, and a system that's effective and efficient to be able to do it, and it's not just the police officer. It's the crime lab that we have, it's communications, that's my most difficult hire in the City of San Diego, to be able to manage a city 365 days a year. Or compare us with any city, and see our staffing levels. We have one of the lowest staffing levels of any large city in America. And with those low staffing levels, I believe we do an incredible job to have one of the safest cities. But those numbers are starting to change, and if you gave me 100 officers today to try to change those number, they wouldn't be on the street for 12 months. You would not see them until they get through the training process. We've got to prepare today for tomorrow. CAVANAUGH: Another criticism that was made about the presentation was about the number of police who have left the department in recent years. The number given was 260. It seems that if you break that down, more than half of that number left during two very challenging years for the City of San Diego, 2006 and 2007, according to the reporting done by UT San Diego's Matt Hall. So in recent year, we haven't had much attrition from the San Diego police department. ZIMMERMAN: Well, what I explained to Mr. Hall is that that is a conservative number. It was actually 270 over the last ten years, and it's conservative because as the officers have left the department, we have an exit form, and they basically checked the box and said they were going to another law enforcement agency. We have had officers leave to many other law enforcement agencies, but they basically didn't check that box. So we didn't count that as a number. We have had officers leave for the priority sector in security fields and have had others who have just left. And the point is that in the last ten years, we have had more officers leave that we've hired, 330 more officers have left that we have hired, and 270 of them have left for other law enforcement agencies. And it is an extremely competitive market right now with many other agencies hiring, and especially locally, where the sheriff's department are looking at hiring more than 1,200 deputies in the next three years, and they're actually paying hiring bonuses for our trained officers to lateral over to their department. So we spend about $145,000 to train an officer for the first year, so even with those 13 that Mr. Hall was talking about, do the math, it's about $1.8 million that walked out the door. Not only do we have a recruitment issue but a retention issue as well. CAVANAUGH: Brian Marvel, present of the police officer's association is on the line. Welcome to the program. MARVEL: Thank you for having me. CAVANAUGH: You've expressed concerns about the level of the department's service to the community. Do you think the service level has slipped? MARVEL: Absolutely. I think our officers are having to make very tough decisions between which calls they want to handle and where they want to go, based on our staffing levels. I do want to commend chief Lansdowne for making sure that the patrol operations were the highest priority in the police department since that's what people see most often. But the reality is, we have been losing officers, we're losing officers to retirement and going to other agencies, and we're at a level where I think the chief is right, we're at a tipping point. It does take a long time to get a new recruit through the academy, trained up, and on the street. It's actually five years before you get a solid officer who can work independently and make solid decisions out on the street. CAVANAUGH: Brian, can you tell us an example of the kinds of choices that you've seen officers having to make in the field because there are not enough recovers to go around? MARVEL: I can tell you anecdotely, some officers rolled up on a house, there was a child welfare incident, on the floor of the house were drug paraphernalia, alcohol, and that type of stuff, and then they get a call of a female getting beat up with a hammer. Those officers had to make a choice, do I stay here and help these kids or help this lady getting beat up in the middle of the street? They had to go to the lady in the street and leave those children for a little bit later. Those are the decisions that our officers are having to make. And it's not an easy decision for an officer. When you go into scenes like that, you want to help right there and then, and not have to make the choice of which one you want to do. CAVANAUGH: Thank you for joining us. MARVEL: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Chief Lansdowne, I think that many San Diegans would agree that the San Diego police department has had cutbacks in recent years and given a perfect world, it would be great to restore those cuts and boost the budget. And as you say, this presentation you made, the City Council can take all of it, part of it. But do you think using those half-year crime statistics alarmist? LANSDOWNE: I don't think it was a mistake at all. I think the council has to make the decision on where they would like to set their priorities for public safety, and the community needs to help them make that decision. You can't do it without the right information. This is all about transparency and what's going on at this particular time. And what we see in the future. And these numbers are not an annamally. What has brought crime down? I've been doing this for 47 years. What's brought it down is we've changed the way we police. We have had community policing, problem-oriented policing, intelligence-led policing which means we use technology which is here today and able to predict crime and put people in the right place to be able to reduce, and that's what I believe is reducing crime across the country because we police well. But across the country, we're starting to see these numbers start to move because we've all cut back so much we can't provide that level of service, we can't spend the time with people to prevent a crime. We're just triaging crime. And that's a problem for all of us to face, and something that this five-year plan is designed specifically to address. CAVANAUGH: You're both talking about staffing levels, the need to increase the number of officers, and the kind of compete I have beenness there is between agencies in San Diego and across the country. Proposition B calls for a freeze pay on police officers. Do you see that affecting the police morale and staffing? LANSDOWNE: It has affected morale. The police officer, the ones who go out and do the job, or the civilian staff, they all look around and say do you really appreciate us? And all they're asking for, and Brian Mal borough is probably the best choice to go to, is a chance to be at the table to work these issues out. But saying it's a union grab for money, I think is a terrible mistake. They work very, very hard, and they just want an opportunity to express their views and negotiate through the process. CAVANAUGH: The public service committee voted that the mayor's office should respond to the police budget request before it goes on to the full council. Are you working with mayor Sander's office on that? LANSDOWNE: Absolutely. I could not have a better mayor than Jerry Sanders. He's a police chief in the City of San Diego. He sat on the very committee that selected me as a chief for the City of San Diego. It is a great relationship, and yes, we do work together every day. We understand the problems, the issues of money, and how you're going to pay for some of these things. But you need the choice in front you, the information that's current and correct to help make that decision. Of that's what this five year plan really provides everybody, is to be able to take a look at is decide what level of policing and safety you would like to have. And it could be modified over a five-year period. I don't think it gets any better than this. CAVANAUGH: Chief Zimmerman, you've been out in front in requesting a budget increase. When do you expect the request will go before the full City Council? ZIMMERMAN: We expect that most likely some time in late September. CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right.
San Diego's violent-crime rate has been trending down for several years. The budget for the San Diego Police Department has followed the same trajectory, trending downward in operating funds, staffing and equipment replacement over the same period. In recent months, however, violent crime in San Diego has risen.
Police Chief William Lansdowne and Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman have presented a plan to reverse this lengthy budgetary slide to the City Council's public safety committee. If adopted, the plan would funnel $11.6 million in additional funding to the SDPD every year for five years and, the department believes, put a stop to the nascent crime wave.
The funds would allow the police department to increase academy classes from 25 to 35, a level which would overcome the attrition rate to reach current budgeted staffing levels of 1969 sworn officers by 2019. The plan also includes replacement of the Computer Aided Dispatch System (CAD, or 9-1-1), which was installed nearly 25 years ago.
Lansdowne told KPBS that the police have endured budget cuts but now believe the city has the money to increase their funds. He said his department needs the extra police to not just decrease crime but improve the services it provides.
“It’s well documented for our ability to provide better service to the community of San Diego," he said. "They’re asking for more service and we’re in a position I believe to provide that over a five year window.”
"As you look at the downsizing of government across the state of California and certainly within the county of San Diego, social services cut back, mental health services cut back, the first call and first responders at 3 a.m. is going to be the police department," he added. "And you want a department that's well managed, trained and staffed to be able to provide services because we, the police department, are one of the very last government agencies that still will come to your home for almost any reason to assist you with your issues and problems.
"And there are lots of people that need our services, and they need it quickly, and that's what this is all about, getting set up and ready for the next five years, and the needs for the community of San Diego."
Some have questioned the SDPD's use of crime-rate statistics for short periods, saying that over the long-term, violent crime in San Diego is trending downward, as it is in much of the country. The criticism has centered on the comparison of two five month periods - one with a very low rate of violent crime and the other, from January to May of 2012, with a higher rate.
But Zimmerman said the numbers are fair.
“As managers on the police department, we look at a number of different factors and just one of them was the crime rate," she said. "And it had been down for many years. And it was alarming to see just in the first five months of this year compared to last year that it was up 12.6 percent.”
The police department noted in the report to the City Council that the department has had to rely on overtime for personnel to meet the city's needs and on grants to replace equipment.
The request to increase the SDPD budget comes on the heels of Mayor Jerry Sanders' announcement in April that the city's budget crisis was over and that the next budget would be balanced with a surplus of some $119 million over the next five years.