SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Funding for an officer retention program and recruiting efforts should help the San Diego Police Department reach optimum personnel levels earlier than expected, Chief Shelley Zimmerman said Monday.
She made the comment on the first day of a weeklong department-by-department review by the City Council of the municipality's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The spending plan outlined last month by Mayor Kevin Faulconer includes $4.1 million to increase the number of recruits in each of the SDPD's next five academies by nine, and $3.2 million to continue a retention program for experienced officers -- impacting their holiday hours and flexible benefits.
"What this will do is that it will put more take-home pay in our officers' pockets, because that is the bottom line to make it more in line to what some of the other police departments locally are paying," Zimmerman told the council members.
The department has been working with around 125 to 150 officers fewer than the 1,977called for in the current fiscal year's budget because prospective recruits have opted for hiring offers by other agencies -- mainly the Sheriff's Department -- and because experienced officers have been leaving at a rate of nine or 10 a month over the last few years to neighboring departments that offer better pay.
A five-year plan developed by the SDPD and approved by the City Council calls for a return to the 2,127 officers who were on staff in 2009. As recently as October, Zimmerman told the council members that the goal was unattainable at the current rate.
Monday, she said more recent projections placed the goal line in April 2027, but the budget proposal actually makes the figure attainable by July 2018.
The mayor's proposed budget would give the SDPD $417.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year. Funding would be made available for the department to purchase 600 cameras that would be worn on uniforms to record interactions with the public; for an assistant chief responsible for employee development and training; and for the hiring of 17 civilian workers who would free officers to go back out on the streets.
"This budget does address our immediate critical needs both for sworn and civilian personnel," Zimmerman said.
The council also reviewed the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's proposed $217.7 million budget, which includes funds for two fire academies in addition to one previously planned, and construction of a temporary station in the Skyline neighborhood, where response times tend to be slower than elsewhere in the city.
Council members asked questions and made some brief comments, but no votes on the budget are expected until next month.
In a report issued last week, the independent budget analyst's office praised the overall $2.97 billion spending plan for sound financial assumptions, "significant investments in public safety," and a restoration of services that had been cut during the recession.
The agency said the budget proposal did not include enough spending on infrastructure, but conceded that the $1 billion backlog of major construction and maintenance projects "bears no easy solution." The report also says surpluses forecast through the next five fiscal years are "likely optimistic."
The City Council will go through the various municipal departments over the next five days, with infrastructure scheduled for Tuesday. Some members of the panel are expected to renew their call for a program manager to implement a climate change action plan expected to be adopted later this year.
Faulconer is scheduled to issue suggested revisions later this month, based on City Council input and updated financial information.
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