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Public Safety

Pension savings make room for raises, new positions in San Diego Police Department

The San Diego City Council on Friday reviewed Mayor Todd Gloria's proposed police budget, which is $9 million less than the prior fiscal year, despite planned raises and new positions.

The municipal pension fund benefited from a strong stock market over the past year, reducing the amount of money that the city must contribute to keep the fund solvent. Because police pensions fall under the department's annual budget, overall police spending is down slightly.

The raises, which have not yet been negotiated with the unions that represent sworn officers and civilian staff, are meant to address a long-running battle against officer attrition that has worsened over the past year.

Gloria has also proposed adding 23 civilian positions to the police department to boost enforcement of illegal parking. Police Chief David Nisleit said complaints of illegal parking had surged, and the additional civilian positions should help free up sworn officers to focus on more pressing matters.

"We're not meeting the community expectation," Nisleit said. "Sometimes some of our backlog could be up to 45 days. This should drop that to about a week."

Total police spending from the city's general fund would be $584.2 million under the mayor's plan.

Much of the hearing on the police budget was overshadowed by recent attacks on Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe from the San Diego Police Officers Association. A statement released by the union Monday claimed that she was not prioritizing public safety and had sought to cut the police budget.

But Montgomery Steppe made clear Friday that she supported the higher police salaries and new positions proposed by the mayor. And she said she would not back away from attempts to curtail well-documented disparities in how San Diego police officers treat Black and Latino residents compared with whites.

"I live in Black skin, I can't ignore it," Montgomery Steppe said. "I'm not going to ignore the statistics that ... give us an idea of the type of experience that, in particular, Black and Brown people have in those interactions."

Several colleagues voiced support for Montgomery Steppe and said the rhetoric from the POA was unacceptable.

"Nobody here has committed more time, in office or prior to being elected, to ensuring peace, safety and justice in San Diego," Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said. "Anyone who tries to advocate to me with an implication that (Montgomery Steppe) is not doing her part — you've lost me. So stop."

Among the reforms Montgomery Steppe has been pushing is a requirement that officers have probable cause to stop, detain or search someone. The current standard is "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed. Critics say that opens the door to racial profiling.

The police union has launched a campaign to quash debate over the proposed reforms, saying they would make it impossible for officers to do their jobs.