Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006 | I just finished reading Scott Lewis‘ article in voiceofsandiego.org, and I have a few comments. First, I am a San Diego Police Department police officer and I am being forced to leave this department.
Why? Well, over the last two years the city of San Diego has failed to negotiate in good faith with the San Diego Police Officer’s Association (SDPOA), and they have imposed disastrous contracts. These contracts have led to my take home pay being cut by nearly $800 a month after paying for the city mandated increases in my health care and pension contributions.
Unlike the city, I live within my means and I have a true household budget. I could have handled a pay freeze as the city tries to fix its financial house, but cutting my pay by almost $10,000 annually (the equivalent of five of my mortgage payments) has pushed my ability to care for my family to the edge. I imagine there are many San Diegans, both in the private and public sectors, who would be looking for new jobs if their pay was cut this dramatically.
However, compensation (pay and benefits) is not the only factor driving officers from SDPD. The recent elimination of the compensation-time program is a real problem for many officers including myself. My duties require me to testify on my days off and this takes me away from my family.
To make it up to them I would take the court time, and other extra mandated hours that I am required to work, as compensation time. Then I would give the department 72 hours notice and use a compensation time day to be a husband and a father. The last contract imposed on SDPD officers required significant changes in the granting of comp time and the SDPOA refused to agree to it. Since the Fair Labor Standards Act requires an agreement to exits between the employer and the employee over the use of compensation time, this program was eliminated after the impasse.
The elimination of this program will cost the city of San Diego millions of dollars and will have a direct impact over how much time I can spend with my family. It is a very important issue and one that is forcing me to seek employment elsewhere.
Next, the safety of my family, my coworkers, and my fellow San Diegans is impacting my decision to remain a San Diego police officer. Every patrol division has minimum staffing levels that are supposed to be maintained. These levels are established by the police department to ensure not only the safety of its citizens, but of its officers.
Most days, minimum staffing levels are not being met and there is almost no effort to hire officers on overtime to correct this problem. This leads to increased stress among officers as they handle more violent calls than ever before.
In fact, according the Center of Policy Initiatives, “the number of crimes that an average SDPD officer encounters is the highest of among all the largest cities in California.” That’s right, by remaining a SDPD officer I get to encounter more crime and criminals, while being compensated much less than my fellow officers in different agencies.
Another factor driving me to leave this department is the existing litigation between the city of San Diego and the SDPOA. The SDPOA and its members have sued the city over alleged violations of the last agreed upon contract and for violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act. I believe the cost to settle this lawsuit will be very high to the city and after paying it, they will respond by saying there is no money left for wage and benefit increases. This will lead to a further retention and recruitment problems.
The biggest factor driving me to leave SDPD is the current mayor, his executive staff and their handling of this crisis. I have listened as Ronne Froman and Mike Aguirre have said that city employees seeking raises should look for jobs elsewhere. I watched Mayor Jerry Sanders respond to the SDPOA commercials and deny there was a staffing problem.
I also saw the mayor stand before the city of San Diego Council Members in May and proclaim that our compensation was “comparable” to officers in other agencies. The mayor either knew or should have known that SDPD officers are ranked 188th out of the largest 200 police agencies in pay and benefits.
Three months later, after he got the impasse he was looking for, the mayor stood before the City Council and declared there was a crisis in the police department and vowed to fix it with a retention and recruitment plan. I prayed and hoped that this plan would be viable and offer hope to SDPD officers looking for a reason to stay here. Instead, the report was a sham and the retention part of it was nonexistent. I, along with many of the officers I work with, do not trust the politicians and citizens of San Diego to resolve this problem any time soon.
The city of San Diego has the right, and has used it, to impose any contract they want on its employees. However, as a police officer I do not get to strike if that contract cuts my pay and makes my working conditions more hazardous. The only option I have is the one described by Tony Manolatos in his San Diego Union-Tribune article, and encouraged by Ronne Froman: to look for employment elsewhere.
As a police officer, nothing in my life is guaranteed and I have been hospitalized several times from injuries I have received during the course of my employment.
Needle sticks from persons infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, smoke inhalation from being stuck in a burning building looking for fire victims and chronic joint pain from fighting violent suspects are just some of the things I have endured over the last 12 years as an officer. I am not going to look for lifelong guarantees from prospective employers, when I know my life could be taken from me on any day in the service of this community.
This is my chosen profession and I am honored to work for the city of San Diego and its citizens. It is time for them to care and support me and my fellow officers in this time of crisis. If they are unwilling to support comparable pay and benefits for SDPD officers, I will look for a job with another department that is willing to make a true financial commitment towards its officers. My new employer may not be able to guarantee me everything I am looking for in future, but at least in Chula Vista they have a five-year contract with their police union guaranteeing a 25 percent increase and making them the highest paid department around.
These are just some things to think about, I already have.
The writer is a police officer with the San Diego Police Department