SDPD pleas for new dispatch system, more officers - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

SDPD pleas for new dispatch system, more officers

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Police Department needs to replacing its aging computer-aided dispatching system, which breaks down frequently and is difficult to repair, an assistant chief said Wednesday.

The comments by Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman came during a presentation to the City Council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on SDPD budget needs over the next five years.

The department is asking for an extra $11.6 million annually through 2018 to rebuild its ranks, depleted in recent years by budget cuts and employee attrition. A new CAD system would cost an estimated additional $8 million.

Zimmerman said the current system is based on 1970s software which few people are trained to fix when bugs crop up. She told City News Service the software trouble-shooter the SDPD calls on when there are problems is more than 70 years old.

The system prioritizes 1.2 million annual calls from the public and links call-takers, dispatchers and officers. Just a few weeks ago, it crashed right when an officer was in a fight and calling for cover - and the dispatcher couldn't hear him, Zimmerman said.

"It's our lifeline," she said of the system.

Dispatchers now place hand-held radios at their desks as backups and call them "doomsday radios," according to the assistant chief.

Zimmerman said the San Diego Fire-Rescue, Public Utilities and Environmental Services departments all use CAD systems, so it is possible that the city could invest in one state-of-the-art upgrade, to be shared by the four agencies.

"In any case, joint venture or not, the CAD system will have to be replaced in the next five years," Zimmerman said.

Councilmen David Alvarez and Todd Gloria said the city should move much faster than five years on installing a new CAD system. Alvarez said it should be part of the discussion when figuring out the budget for the next fiscal year.

The SDPD's requests come amid reports from the department that violent crime is up 12.6 percent in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year. Department statistics show rape, robbery and aggravated assault are all more than 10 percent higher when compared to last year.

If the trend continues, it would be the first annual jump in violent crime in San Diego in about a decade.

Chief William Lansdowne said a combination of factors were to blame, including having too few officers to do proactive crime fighting, state mental health system budget cuts and the state's realignment of public safety.

Additional funding would allow the SDPD to hire 158 sworn officers and 100 civilian staff, purchase vehicles and equipment, replace outdated gear, restore a dozen canine teams and add three more, and allow the patrol helicopter to fly more, according to their report to the committee.

They said the benefits of the restorations would include faster response times, more proactive crime-fighting by officers and a reduction of overtime expenses.

The report shows that SDPD had 1,969 budgeted positions for officers in the recently completed fiscal year, compared to 2,108 in 2007. However, there were only 1,821 officers actually on the force, compared to 1,912 five years ago.

The SDPD reported that it is unable to keep up with the high rate of officers leaving for other law enforcement agencies, even with four academies scheduled in the current fiscal year.

The committee voted unanimously to ask the mayor's office to look into ways of addressing the SDPD's requests.

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