SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Police Department is continuing to lose officers to retirement or other law enforcement agencies despite efforts to keep them and recruit cadets, Chief Shelley Zimmerman told City Council members Thursday.
Zimmerman said the SDPD hired 160 new officers in the fiscal year that ended June 30, and lost 162 to retirement or nearby law enforcement agencies.
In the first two and a half months of the current fiscal year, 35 officers left the department, Zimmerman said at a special meeting of the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.
"We are not gaining ground and it continues to be a challenge," Zimmerman said.
She reported that, as of Thursday, the SDPD has 1,847 sworn officers, which is 166 below the number provided for in the department's budget. The current total includes 126 in the police academy or in field training, the chief said.
The problem goes deeper than just raw numbers, because many of the officers who are leaving are taking years of experience with them.
Specialized assignments like the homicide detail or sex crimes require a "skill set" that can only be acquired by having many years on the force, Zimmerman said.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said his office handles about 20,000 misdemeanor cases and citations annually, and that "we have noticed a problem in regard to the experience level. I will tell you that in my experience as city attorney and also in court, that an experienced police officer is a gem -- invaluable to our public safety."
The experience kicks in when you need to make quick decisions in the field, Goldsmith said.
More than half the SDPD officers on the street now have six years or fewer of experience, according to the IBA report.
"This is exactly why it's critical that we not only aggressively recruit, but at the same time we aggressively retain our officers in a very, extremely competitive market for police officers," Zimmerman said.
The City Council has adopted several strategies to retain officers, including a 7 percent salary increase spread over five years, a restoration of premium pay for holidays that was previously eliminated and increased overtime compensation.
City leaders have an ultimate goal of returning to the fiscal year 2009 staffing level of 2,128 officers.
According to the IBA, the options available to the City Council to stem the tide are to reinstate a uniform and equipment allowance adopted last year but cut from this year's budget, raise salaries and authorize higher police academy class sizes. However, the city has filled its allotted space at the training facility, according to the report.
San Diego Police Officers Association Vice President Jeff Jordan said the city has to offer significantly larger salaries to keep officers on the force.
Top-level sheriff's deputies soon will make $93,000 a year, more than $18,000 more than what the SDPD pays, he said.
"That's what you're competing with now, and our officers know it," Jordan said. "The officers we've lost to those agencies are (letting them know). They're putting their pay stubs on Facebook, so the other officers who are here can see them and go over there."
Councilman Mark Kersey said city officials are trying to deal with the problem, but are constrained by limited dollars and competing interests in rebuilding local infrastructure and increasing library hours, among other things.
He said the recruiting and retention struggles were born in bad decisions made a decade ago, and will take several years to fix.
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