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Chronic Staff Deficit In San Diego Police Department May Get Worse

A chronic shortage of officers in the San Diego Police Department has gone unresolved over the past five years and is likely to worsen before it gets better, officials told members of a City Council committee Wednesday.

The deficit between the number of officers called for in the budget and actually employed by the city remains stubborn despite efforts to improve compensation.

RELATED: About 13 Officers Leave San Diego Police Each Month, Report Says

SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman told members of the council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee that the budgeted number of sworn police officers was 2,039, while the actual number was 1,832 — a deficit of 207.

In a similar report at about this time last year, the difference was also about 200 officers. In 2015, the shortage was about 160.

The ranks of those actually employed by the San Diego Police Department includes 44 recruits in the academy and 52 recent graduates who are in field training, according to the report.

Chronic Staff Deficit In San Diego Police Department May Get Worse
Chronic Staff Deficit In San Diego Police Department May Get Worse GUEST:Brian Marvel, board president, San Diego Police Officers Association

We are going in the wrong direction. That was one police officers take on news that the San Diego Police Department has not met its goal of adding officers and actually lost some of its modest gains. Despite increased compensation and recruiting efforts, the TPD is nowhere near the 300 additional officers it hoped to hire by next year with an increase of only 11. San Diego city police Shelley Timmermann told the city Council yesterday the recruiting column still them from lower pay and benefits. She also maintain media scrutiny of police was reducing the number of recruits. Training is Brian marble president of the board of directors for the San Diego police officers Association and officer marble welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. You are the officer quoted as saying we are going in the wrong direction. What is that problem the SDPD is having with recruitment? In 2012 the city create a five-year plan to address the staffing shortfall we had our department and in 2016, the ultimately had to revise it because we were not making the numbers that we were hoping and they pushed it out to 2021. Yesterday's events at the public safety and livable neighborhoods -- we really wanted to press the issue. We think it is time that we take a serious look at our recruiting program and try to adhere to the five-year plan that was passed in 2012. Instead of kicking the can down the road to one 21. Especially with the increased demand be placed in the Police Department. We need the additional officers working the streets and also be able to deal with what the community has asked for. Reporter: The city of San Diego raise compensation for police officers. Do think it is still too low? Yes. Absolutely. When we just went into our contract a couple years ago, the city actually had to a salary survey and at that time they surveyed 18 other agencies and our department was at 19. When we drafted the contract our goal -- we knew it wasn't going to solve the entire problem . we were very clear with that but what our goal was to either try to help us maintain and keep the extra people here and hopefully in -- incentivize the people to want to come to our department but it is abundantly clear that we have not we that goal so this self evaluate of what we have done and where we are at and try to fix it moving forward. Reporter: When chief Zimmerman was speaking before the San Diego city Council committee yesterday, she mentioned that one of the difficulties in recruiting new officers are the negative news stories about police. But at the same time there is scrutiny of police that does not seem to have led to unfilled vacancies in the Sheriff's Department or the LAPD -- what is your take on that influence? I go to seminars and I talked to other agencies throughout the state of California and nationally and anecdotally we do here that the media in a sense is playing into the broader picture but to point to just that as being the sole problem is not the issue. I think what it comes down to is we have to look at how are we recruiting people and we have a new generation -- these younger officers -- I guess they are be called the lineal generation -- are we effectively addressing what they are looking for for careers? I went to a seminar recently and they talked about what the millennial's -- they want more flexibility in their scheduling . they want a more balance worklife as part of the job. They want the ability to move around a little bit and not stay in places for very long times. As a law-enforcement profession -- how do we try to adjust some of the things that we are doing because we still have to provide a 24/7, 365 day work and put officers on the street. Are the things that we can look at two maybe adjust our profession to accommodate some of these things to where we can attract those type of officers to want to come to our agency? Reporter: Finally, what is the impact of having a large number of vacancies in the SDPD is thus in things like investigative unit and community policing? What happens is when you don't have enough officers working on anything you have the demand . everybody points at the crime rate is low which it is but what the crime rate doesn't take into consideration is the increase calls that we are getting were mental health, increase calls for additional training of our officers for de-escalation and the dealing with mental health issues. We also have a piece of legislation in California racial profiling act were chief Zimmerman has stated a stun analysis that it will be 17,000 additional hours of patrol officers time just to fill out the information that is required on that. Would we are already going out understaffed and not meeting our minimum staffing those offices or basic going call to call to call. A lot of stuff when we go to community meetings it is a quality of life issue and if we do not have the offices to be able to address a lot of the quality of life issues I think it becomes a problem for the community in a sense that they are not getting the services they really want from their Police Department. Reporter: I have been speaking with Brian marble present of the Board of Directors for the San Diego police officers Association. Right, thank you. Thank you much. For having me.

The stubborn problem is the result of years of poaching of SDPD officers by other law enforcement agencies and a large number of experienced officers reaching retirement age. More recently, societal issues — including high- profile police shootings — have dissuaded many younger people from pursuing a career in police work, leaving unfilled positions in recent police academies, Zimmerman said.

Some fear that they will make a mistake and end up on the next YouTube video, while others have had family members talk them out of taking a police job, she said.

"Despite all of our outreach, we have seen a 36 percent decrease in the number of applicants applying to be San Diego police officers over the last two fiscal years," Zimmerman said.

The result is that an academy class beginning next month that could fit 43 recruits will only have 24, the chief said. She said another problem is that only 5 percent of applications are accepted — often because job-seekers have been convicted of a felony or a DUI, or failed drug tests.

"What we are experiencing here in San Diego is not unique to our police department. Many police departments across our country are having difficulty recruiting and retaining police officers," Zimmerman said. "It is not uncommon for one police department to travel to another city just to target recruiting their police officers. We have had that happen here, but we have also done that."

Retirements have also been a problem. Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, warned that more than 600 officers — almost one-third of the force — will become eligible for retirement over the next five years. He said it is difficult to tell who will take the opportunity to retire immediately and who will not.

RELATED: Why Are Officers Leaving The San Diego Police Department?

Since the start of the current fiscal year last July 1, 125 officers have left the department, with at least 15 going to another law enforcement agency, according to the report. Another 20 applicants who were given conditional job offers or were in the process of completing the background investigation to become San Diego police officers opted out in order to join another department.

The current attrition rate is 13 officers a month.

According to Marvel, the staffing level is just 11 officers higher than 2012. By this summer, employment will be lower than five years ago, he said.

"The result — less proactive policing, significantly increased response times and overwhelmed investigators," Marvel said. "The situation will only get worse with every recruit class that goes unfilled, and an inability to retain our officers."

City officials several years ago began offering inducements to stay, such as raising uniform allowances that provided greater take-home pay.

A five-year contract between the city and SDPOA took effect in 2015 will raise salaries by 3.3 percent in each of the final two years. The first three years provided increased city health benefit contributions and holiday pay.

Zimmerman said the staffing shortage would be "dramatically worse" without the extra benefits.

The news was much better among dispatchers, who not long ago faced a staffing shortage that required 911 operators to work substantial amounts of overtime and delayed call responses. Capt. Jerry Hara said only four of the Communications Division's 133 jobs are now vacant.

Of 557 civilian positions in the SDPD, 48 are vacant, the report says.