San Diego Explained: Police Retention

San Diego Explained: Police Retention

Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego police chief William Lansdowne (left), and Assistant Chief David Ramirez (right), pictured in 2011

The San Diego Police Department lost 119 officers last year alone — about 6 percent of the force.

Within the next four years, about half of the force will be eligible to retire. This poses a big challenge for the two men vying to become San Diego’s next mayor, Councilmen David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer.

Both have campaigned on improving police retention, vowing to increase officer compensation to keep them from leaving to work for other law enforcement agencies.

NBC 7′s Catherine Garcia and Voice of San Diego’s Lisa Halverstadt explain what tempting offers are coming out of nearby agencies, and what the SDPD is up against in this week’s San Diego Explained.

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Catherine Green

Catherine Green

Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at catherine.green@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

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16 comments
Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster

Casual conversations with SDPD folks have left me with the impression that morale is a major issue. Used to be that even those eligible for retirement wanted to avoid it and stay on. Now it seems like they can't wait to get out. If those views are typical, it's a big problem. I suspect that the rather relentless attacks on city employee pay and benefits has something to do with that, not just for SDPD. If you don't feel valued, in any job, it is depressing and demotivating.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Casual conversations with SDPD folks have left me with the impression that morale is a major issue. Used to be that even those eligible for retirement wanted to avoid it and stay on. Now it seems like they can't wait to get out. If those views are typical, it's a big problem. I suspect that the rather relentless attacks on city employee pay and benefits has something to do with that, not just for SDPD. If you don't feel valued, in any job, it is depressing and demotivating.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

So San Diego lost 6% of it’s police officers last year, or 119 people, only 15 of whom stated they were taking a job with another police department. If that 119 is 6% of the force then the 15 who stated they went to other departments represent less than one percent that we KNOW got pilfered by other police forces. Doesn’t sound like a major crisis to me.

The speculation that of the 34 people who weren’t specific about their reasons for departure, many were actually going to other departments is just that, speculation, and it doesn’t make sense to me that these people wouldn’t fess up if that were the reason. Why would they conceal it?

Before we get into a round of special police raises, which will inevitably create wage pressure from firefighters, lifeguards and a lot of other employee groups, the city ought to examine it’s police department for other issues that may be causing turnover. E.g., 70 of the departures, or 59% were for retirement. Isn’t it more logical to reexamine the very early full retirement age of 50 years old than to panic into possibly unnecessary pay increases.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

So San Diego lost 6% of it’s police officers last year, or 119 people, only 15 of whom stated they were taking a job with another police department. If that 119 is 6% of the force then the 15 who stated they went to other departments represent less than one percent that we KNOW got pilfered by other police forces. Doesn’t sound like a major crisis to me.

The speculation that of the 34 people who weren’t specific about their reasons for departure, many were actually going to other departments is just that, speculation, and it doesn’t make sense to me that these people wouldn’t fess up if that were the reason. Why would they conceal it?

Before we get into a round of special police raises, which will inevitably create wage pressure from firefighters, lifeguards and a lot of other employee groups, the city ought to examine it’s police department for other issues that may be causing turnover. E.g., 70 of the departures, or 59% were for retirement. Isn’t it more logical to reexamine the very early full retirement age of 50 years old than to panic into possibly unnecessary pay increases.

jeff jordon
jeff jordon

Chris, the new department symbol should be the countdown clock. It is everywhere. For people who don't know what it is, officers literally have countdown clocks on their desks, smart phones etc. that countdown to the exact moment an officer can retire. The next mayor is going to have to stop these clocks, we can't continue to lose 10 plus officers a month after losing over 1,150 officers for all reasons since FY2006 with 900 more eligible to retire in the next few years.

jeff jordon
jeff jordon subscriber

Chris, the new department symbol should be the countdown clock. It is everywhere. For people who don't know what it is, officers literally have countdown clocks on their desks, smart phones etc. that countdown to the exact moment an officer can retire. The next mayor is going to have to stop these clocks, we can't continue to lose 10 plus officers a month after losing over 1,150 officers for all reasons since FY2006 with 900 more eligible to retire in the next few years.

jeff jordon
jeff jordon

Bill, I have written a number of articles for VOSD and done a fair amount of media stuff in City of San Diego. I am a sergeant with SDPD and the vice-president of the SDPOA. First, when an officer leaves SDPD and transfers to say the San Diego Sheriffs Dept, they get the benefits associated with their new employer. For instance, if I was to go to the Sheriff's Dept. I would have to take a demotion and go over as a patrol deputy and work under the terms of their contract, but with 20 years’ experience I imagine I would get paid at a patrol deputy's highest pay grade. Lately, I tend to focus on business arguments in my presentations, not emotional pleas centered on death and disability. In that regards, I don't think there is another police department in this state or any other, where their employer has essentially told officers they are going about ten years without a pay raise. However, this is precisely what the City is telling SDPD officers, who are projected to go from 2008 until 2018 without a pensionable pay increase. SDCERS statistics show the average age of hire for an SDPD officer is 27 and they retire on average at age 54, which means just because they can retire at 50 does not mean that they do. Retirement is not the biggest problem. However, employee behavior is changing as a result of benefit changes, pay freezes and ridiculously dumb litigation being pursued by our past and current city attorney that is encouraging officers to leave as soon as they are eligible, which in turn drives up hiring and retirement costs. Lastly, I was not here when DROP was created, but it was implemented to retain officers for longer periods of time without increasing costs. Arguably, DROP has accomplished its goal. In my opinion, if you want people to stay with SDPD than electeds are going to have to stay committed to fixing the problems that are burning people out: poor equipment and facilities, inadequate staffing, lack of IT support, and misdirected litigation/attacks on employees. Next, if citizens don't want to have repeats of 2005 and 2009, with a mass officer exodus, pay competitively. Right now, SDPD officers don't have to move to another county to get nearly a 26% salary increase by going to the San Diego Sheriff's Department as a result of their new contract, along with more paid time off. I don't need a crystal ball to see what's coming and neither does anyone else familiar with what is going on inside SDPD, the question for the next mayor will be how they stop it and what happens if you don't.

jeff jordon
jeff jordon

Bill,
The retirement age remains 50, but the most a new officer can collect at this age is 65% of their pay. It can't be modified further for current officers due to legal restrictions (and I doubt were going into bankruptcy to test the rules). Regardless, retirement ages are not the problem, finding qualified police applicants is the problem and this problem is getting bigger due to the number of pending officer retirements throughout the state. We are not the only agency dealing with it, see http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/03/local/la-me-lapd-recruits-20131204. Unfortunately, for SDPD the difficulty of recruiting is combined with poor morale, senior officers are telling new officers to go to different agencies for higher pay, and poor demographics where half the department is eligible to retire in the next four years. To make matters worse, our biggest competitor for law enforcement applicants, the San Diego Sheriffs' Department who is looking to hire 600 plus new deputies, is voting on a new contract this week that increases their pensionable pay by a reported 20% plus. The Sheriffs' and SDPD have always been at the bottom of compensation, but it appears the rumored new sheriffs contract will move them into the median with other agencies and make them even more appealing to current SDPD officers looking to transfer and this will cost city taxpayers big. Personally, I see the attrition rate as an opportunity for SDPD, and I believe there are ways to reduce officers leaving from 10 to 11 per month to 7 or 8 which could save the City millions of dollars.With fewer qualified recruits, LAPD sees decline in rankshttp://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/03/local/la-me-lapd-recruits-20131204As fewer people apply, and more applicants are rejected, the city struggles to replace police officers leaving the agency. Less than a year after reaching its long-sought goal of 10,000 officers, the Los Angeles Police Department is now seeing a stea...

jeff jordon
jeff jordon

Yes Jim, some of the 1,150 cops we lost since FY2006 were on Santa's and the department's naughty list and they are no longer here as a result.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

How many left while under investigation?

jeff jordon
jeff jordon subscriber

Bill, I have written a number of articles for VOSD and done a fair amount of media stuff in City of San Diego. I am a sergeant with SDPD and the vice-president of the SDPOA. First, when an officer leaves SDPD and transfers to say the San Diego Sheriffs Dept, they get the benefits associated with their new employer. For instance, if I was to go to the Sheriff's Dept. I would have to take a demotion and go over as a patrol deputy and work under the terms of their contract, but with 20 years’ experience I imagine I would get paid at a patrol deputy's highest pay grade. Lately, I tend to focus on business arguments in my presentations, not emotional pleas centered on death and disability. In that regards, I don't think there is another police department in this state or any other, where their employer has essentially told officers they are going about ten years without a pay raise. However, this is precisely what the City is telling SDPD officers, who are projected to go from 2008 until 2018 without a pensionable pay increase. SDCERS statistics show the average age of hire for an SDPD officer is 27 and they retire on average at age 54, which means just because they can retire at 50 does not mean that they do. Retirement is not the biggest problem. However, employee behavior is changing as a result of benefit changes, pay freezes and ridiculously dumb litigation being pursued by our past and current city attorney that is encouraging officers to leave as soon as they are eligible, which in turn drives up hiring and retirement costs. Lastly, I was not here when DROP was created, but it was implemented to retain officers for longer periods of time without increasing costs. Arguably, DROP has accomplished its goal. In my opinion, if you want people to stay with SDPD than electeds are going to have to stay committed to fixing the problems that are burning people out: poor equipment and facilities, inadequate staffing, lack of IT support, and misdirected litigation/attacks on employees. Next, if citizens don't want to have repeats of 2005 and 2009, with a mass officer exodus, pay competitively. Right now, SDPD officers don't have to move to another county to get nearly a 26% salary increase by going to the San Diego Sheriff's Department as a result of their new contract, along with more paid time off. I don't need a crystal ball to see what's coming and neither does anyone else familiar with what is going on inside SDPD, the question for the next mayor will be how they stop it and what happens if you don't.

jeff jordon
jeff jordon subscriber

Bill,
The retirement age remains 50, but the most a new officer can collect at this age is 65% of their pay. It can't be modified further for current officers due to legal restrictions (and I doubt were going into bankruptcy to test the rules). Regardless, retirement ages are not the problem, finding qualified police applicants is the problem and this problem is getting bigger due to the number of pending officer retirements throughout the state. We are not the only agency dealing with it, see http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/03/local/la-me-lapd-recruits-20131204. Unfortunately, for SDPD the difficulty of recruiting is combined with poor morale, senior officers are telling new officers to go to different agencies for higher pay, and poor demographics where half the department is eligible to retire in the next four years. To make matters worse, our biggest competitor for law enforcement applicants, the San Diego Sheriffs' Department who is looking to hire 600 plus new deputies, is voting on a new contract this week that increases their pensionable pay by a reported 20% plus. The Sheriffs' and SDPD have always been at the bottom of compensation, but it appears the rumored new sheriffs contract will move them into the median with other agencies and make them even more appealing to current SDPD officers looking to transfer and this will cost city taxpayers big. Personally, I see the attrition rate as an opportunity for SDPD, and I believe there are ways to reduce officers leaving from 10 to 11 per month to 7 or 8 which could save the City millions of dollars.With fewer qualified recruits, LAPD sees decline in rankshttp://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/03/local/la-me-lapd-recruits-20131204As fewer people apply, and more applicants are rejected, the city struggles to replace police officers leaving the agency. Less than a year after reaching its long-sought goal of 10,000 officers, the Los Angeles Police Department is now seeing a stea...

jeff jordon
jeff jordon subscriber

Yes Jim, some of the 1,150 cops we lost since FY2006 were on Santa's and the department's naughty list and they are no longer here as a result.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

How many left while under investigation?

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Jeff, I understand the 65% business, and in the long run that should be good for taxpayers because it may discourage some officers from leaving until the ripe old age of, say, 55. But the problem is now, not 20 years down the road when these people are approaching retirement age.

When you say that retirement ages aren’t a problem, can you explain why the DROP program was started? I believe it started with police and, like most benefits, spread to other employee groups. The idea was to retain experienced people that would otherwise bail out, many of them taking jobs elsewhere. Of course, it’s a lousy deal for taxpayers because the commitment is all on the city and zero on the employee. By that I mean the city is required to keep the person on once signed up, assuming no malfeasance, but the employee can bail out at any time during the five years with all benefits accrued to date, no penalty. Thus the purpose of the program, to keep experienced talent, is unreliable.

Jeff, you used a word that makes me think you are a police officer; am I right? The word is “transfer”, when you talked about officers leaving for other jurisdictions. To most people, transfer connotes moving within an organization, but to police officers that’s not the case, is it? Am I correct in saying that law enforcement personnel are the only public employees (or private, for that matter) who can quit one city and go to work for another and take with them accrued non-vested pension benefits, vacation eligibility, seniority and almost every other thing which other employees lose, when they go to the new police department? If I’m right, this sets up a never-ending bidding war between departments that is great for officers, not so good for taxpayers, doesn’t it?

And Jeff, in your rebuttal skip the bit about officers putting their lives on the line daily for ungrateful “civilians”; you’d sound too much like a firefighter if you did that. I have the highest respect for police officers; otherwise I wouldn’t have spent almost nine years as an SDPD volunteer and still be serving on the board of an organization supporting police volunteers.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Jeff, I understand the 65% business, and in the long run that should be good for taxpayers because it may discourage some officers from leaving until the ripe old age of, say, 55. But the problem is now, not 20 years down the road when these people are approaching retirement age.

When you say that retirement ages aren’t a problem, can you explain why the DROP program was started? I believe it started with police and, like most benefits, spread to other employee groups. The idea was to retain experienced people that would otherwise bail out, many of them taking jobs elsewhere. Of course, it’s a lousy deal for taxpayers because the commitment is all on the city and zero on the employee. By that I mean the city is required to keep the person on once signed up, assuming no malfeasance, but the employee can bail out at any time during the five years with all benefits accrued to date, no penalty. Thus the purpose of the program, to keep experienced talent, is unreliable.

Jeff, you used a word that makes me think you are a police officer; am I right? The word is “transfer”, when you talked about officers leaving for other jurisdictions. To most people, transfer connotes moving within an organization, but to police officers that’s not the case, is it? Am I correct in saying that law enforcement personnel are the only public employees (or private, for that matter) who can quit one city and go to work for another and take with them accrued non-vested pension benefits, vacation eligibility, seniority and almost every other thing which other employees lose, when they go to the new police department? If I’m right, this sets up a never-ending bidding war between departments that is great for officers, not so good for taxpayers, doesn’t it?

And Jeff, in your rebuttal skip the bit about officers putting their lives on the line daily for ungrateful “civilians”; you’d sound too much like a firefighter if you did that. I have the highest respect for police officers; otherwise I wouldn’t have spent almost nine years as an SDPD volunteer and still be serving on the board of an organization supporting police volunteers.