File photo by Sam Hodgson
San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne (center) and Executive Assistant Police Chief David Ramirez at an October 2011 City Council meeting.
It wouldn’t be foolish to assume the City Council already approved the Police Department’s blueprint for the next five years.
It’s often referred to more as a foregone conclusion than a proposal, including at multiple council committee meetings and in Police Department requests for new gear and an expensive system to handle 911 calls.
But the council hasn’t formally signed off and no one can explain exactly why that hasn’t happened yet.
Last summer, the council’s public safety committee endorsed the five-year plan to hire nearly 160 officers and reinvest in a Police Department that has weathered cuts in recent years. They promised to do what they could to move it forward quickly.
“I want you to know this is not a report that’s going to sit on a shelf,” committee Chairwoman Marti Emerald told police leaders last July.
Yet the document, which will be central to upcoming discussions about the Police Department’s budget, has languished in the mayor’s office.
A spokeswoman for Emerald said Mayor Bob Filner’s office was scrutinizing the plan but Councilman David Alvarez and Council President Todd Gloria, who both served on the committee at the time of the July meeting, said they didn’t know why it hadn’t gone to the full council.
The plan is among the items under review as part of a mayoral policy that dictates Filner must give his approval before it can be added to the council docket.
That’s despite then-mayoral candidate Filner’s declaration that the five-year blueprint would be among his first priorities as mayor. In fact, he wanted to bolster the plan.
In some ways, formal approval of the measure is largely symbolic because it would recommend rather than mandate spending but Filner emphasized its importance on his campaign website:
|Image courtesy of bobfilnerformayor.com|
This week, the mayor told Voice of San Diego he thought the item had been approved by the council. He said he had confused the public safety committee, which signed off on the item in July, with the full council.
A spokeswoman later confirmed Filner’s office is reviewing the Police Department’s plan and hopes to send it to the council soon, possibly with amendments.
“We’re supposed to have it done by the end of the month, if not earlier,” spokeswoman Irene McCormack said.
She said the item remains among Filner’s chief concerns but that he’s faced a new reality as mayor.
“The mayor really and truly believes in public safety and making sure that we have a police force that is up to the task — but with all the things that come when you finally do become mayor, you have to prioritize your time,” McCormack said.
Gloria, who is responsible for scheduling votes, said Wednesday he’d be willing to set a date to solidify the city’s goals for the Police Department. He just hadn’t received the request yet.
If Filner’s office forwards the plan as scheduled, it will come amid council discussions on his first budget.
It’s unclear what extra police expenses Filner might plug into the budget he’s set to release later this month but he’ll need to balance them with other priorities. The city faces as much as a $40 million budget deficit and other city departments are also vying for cash.
The police plan recommends the city spend roughly $66 million in the next five years to hire dozens of police officers and civilian workers to restore the department to 2009 staffing levels, as well as to invest in new equipment and vehicles. The suggested price tag for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, is $11.6 million. New hires make up the majority of the cost and would come in addition to the 140 officers the department had already planned to hire annually in the next five years.
These extra costs would represent just a fraction of the Police Department’s sizeable budget — last year it was more than $400 million — but committing to the new expenses would be a significant step as the city attempts to close a budget shortfall and put its financial struggles in the past.
The council has already set aside an unexpected $6.9 million from San Diego County for an estimated $8 million computer-aided dispatch system to replace the aging one the department has relied on for decades.
Police leaders say the upgrades and new hires will help police respond more quickly to 911 calls and give them more time to prevent rather than simply react to crime.
“The community has absolutely seen a difference in things that we are no longer able to do,” Assistant Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said. “They were used to a certain level of service.”
Zimmerman would not say whether police incorporated the five-year plan into the budget they’ve sent the mayor for consideration.
But it’s likely the hiring plans laid out in the five-year plan are part of that proposal. Expected attrition and upcoming retirements will complicate the agency’s ability to not only comply with the five-year plan but to maintain current staffing.
Filner said he considers the five-year plan the outline for his Police Department budget but didn’t detail which items he’ll invest in this coming year.
“We’ll do as much as we can,” he said.
The Five-Year Plan, By the Numbers
• $28 million for 158 new officers
• $12.1 million to replace outdated equipment
• $10.1 million for 100 new civilian workers
• $8 million to replace old computer-aided dispatch system
• $3.1 million for new police vehicles
• $3 million to maintain facilities
• $1.1 million for equipment for new officers
• $530,000 to restore the police K9 unit, add more police helicopter hours
Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0528.
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