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Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 | While reading recently, I found a reader’s question intriguing. The reader wanted to know how a police officer would correct the San Diego Police Department officer retention problem if he were mayor. The following is my answer to that reader’s question. I added some background so the reader could better understand the issue from a police officer’s prospective.

Trash Collection and T.O.T. Fees

I would ask the citizens of San Diego to approve a monthly trash collection fee of $12 per month. The city of San Diego presently collects trash from 315,000 residences and small businesses. This costs the city more than $30 million per year. Trash is presently collected at no charge due to a 1919 People’s Ordinance which prohibited the city from collecting a trash collection fee. The 1919 People’s Ordinance was enacted after the citizens of San Diego found out city officials were charging for trash pick up and then selling the trash to pig farmers in Los Angeles for a profit.

A trash collection fee would be one of the quickest ways to increase city of San Diego revenue. The city already has a trash collection program in place. A $12 per month fee would create a new revenue source of over $45 million a year.

I would ask the voters to approve an increase in the hotel tax to 14 percent which would bring us up to the rate currently paid in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It makes no sense to market our city as a tourist/convention destination, but not charge the tourist visiting our city the same rate as other large cities in California.

As reported August 28, 2005, in a San Diego Union-Tribune story titled “America’s Cheapest City,” San Diego collects less revenue per person than most major cities in the state.

One Time Bonus to SDPD Officers

I would give SDPD officers a one time $1,000 to $2, 000 immediate bonus. All parties agree the San Diego Police Department is not going to spend the budgeted dollars allocated for officer salaries this year. These funds would be better spent for a real retention plan instead of going back to the general fund. The amount of the bonus should be a little bit higher the longer officers have been on the department. This bonus would send a message to the officers that the city of San Diego is serious about resolving this issue and they can be trusted to come up with competitive pay.

Most SDPD officers don’t trust the city government officials to keep their promises. This lack of trust was created well before Mayor Sanders took office. The lack of trust issue has clearly developed into an adversarial relationship between the San Diego Police Officers and city government. The adversarial relationship and lack of trust SDPD officers feel toward San Diego city government is a deeply rooted and serious problem that should not be ignored.

Over the years officers feel they have been burned and mistreated by the city of San Diego. In 1991, San Diego police officers voted to give back a 1 percent pay raise they were scheduled to receive. These votes were cast after the city of San Diego approached the POA and said they were having hard times. Officers were told at the time they would be rewarded in the future for voting to give back their pay raise. That reward never came.

For years, everyone from the mayor, chief and City Council has said the San Diego Police Department is the finest police department in the county or in some cases the country, but what when it comes time for pay negotiations SDPD officers are certainly not treated as the finest. The lack of competitive pay has occurred during a time when the San Diego’s housing market was booming and major redevelopment projects have taken shape throughout the city.

Although SDPD officers have been working without a contract for the past two years, many officers feel even when a contract is signed the city fails to follow through on agreements listed in the contract. Per the last signed contract between the POA and the city of San Diego, the city was supposed to study the possibility of creating a Police Officer III rank and making the Police Detective position a rank rather then an assignment. This was never done.

Most SDPD officers were overcome with anger when they read Ronne Froman’s comments telling officers to look for a job elsewhere if they want a pay raise. These feelings of anger resurfaced when City Attorney Mike Aguirre made a similar comment a few months later.

In the spring of this year, SDPD officers looked on as the POA and the mayor’s office each presented in their police staffing figures, salary comparisons and thoughts on SDPD’s officer retention problem. The POA’s figures gave the public the perception SDPD officers are underpaid, police staffing levels are low and the officer retention problem is an issue that needs the city’s immediate attention.

The mayor’s comments and documentation gave the public the perception staffing levels are adequate, pay is competitive and officers leaving the department is a cyclical issue. The mayor would often follow these public comments with e-mail messages to officers stating his spin on the above-mentioned issues. The mayor lost a great deal of creditability with most officers at this point because they all knew the perception Mayor Sanders was giving the public was inaccurate. The officers were well aware of the conditions they were working under.

Fast forward to July 11, and the truth begins to come out when Mayor Sanders is quoted in a Union-Tribune article calling the exodus of officers a crisis.

These are small sample of the reasons most SDPD officers have a lack of trust when dealing with San Diego city government officials.

Include Police Officers as Members of the Officer Retention Taskforce

One part of Mayor Sander’s retention plan that I thought was very strange is the part which reads, “Create an internal task force to ensure that the plan is implemented, the results are assessed and necessary adjustments made.” What sense does it make to have high ranking officials implement a retention plan without including officers? It is an officer retention task force without officers. Officers of various ranks and assignments should be included on the proposed internal retention task force.

If I were mayor would invite one officer from each patrol division to participate in the officer retention task force. This would enable task force related information to be disseminated amongst officers. Including officers in the officer retention task force will give this task force more credibility with officers and certainly make the task force more productive.

Offer a 24-Month Extension to Officers Currently in the D.R.O.P. Program

I would offer all current officers participating in the Deferred Retirement Program (D.R.O.P.) the option of extending their D.R.O.P. time from five years to seven years. Presently the city of San Diego needs all the experienced and qualified officers they can find. If an experienced officer would like to extend his career for two additional years, that would provide a major benefit to the SDPD. This would also enable the SDPD to keep experienced officers around longer, while new qualified officers can be recruited and trained.

The D.R.O.P. program has been given an undeserved bad rap in the media, but what everyone needs to realize is if every officer presently in the drop program (250+) were to leave tomorrow it would have a devastating effect on an already understaffed police force.

Take Action to Collect Money Owed the City

On July 17, Councilmember Donna Frye reported during an open city council meeting the Center City Development Corporation owes the city of San Diego $200 million. If I were mayor I would check the validity of that statement. If the statement was true, I would take necessary action to collect those funds immediately. I would also put measures in place to collect any outstanding loans, rents or payments owed by any other organization.

Base Officers Pay on the Average of Top Three Pay Rates in Region

I would make a real commitment to ensure SDPD officers are among the highest paid officers in the region (San Diego/Riverside County). As base pay goes up in the region SDPD officers get a raise 0.5 percent over the average of the three highest paid agencies in the region.

Establish Longevity Pay at SDPD

Establish a longevity pay program at SDPD similar to LAPD, in which officers get a bonus based upon their years of service.

Limit Number of Health Plans Available to City Employees

Presently, city of San Diego employees can choose from a variety of health plans. Each of these health plans have various cost and benefits. The problem with offering so many plans is the city’s ability to obtain a volume discount from an insurance provider is weakened. I would offer all city employees a choice between one or two health plans; this would enable the city to negotiate a volume discount which would lower health insurance cost for the city and all employees.

Paid Health Insurance and Retirement Contributions for SDPD Officers

I would recommend health insurance is paid for officers and their families. Retirement contributions also need to be paid for SDPD officers. These two items not being paid are why SDPD can no longer compete with other agencies in the region. When viewing the pay comparison chart within mayor’s retention plan, one can see these two items are commonly paid by other jurisdictions. Most officers pay $9,000-$10,000 per year out of their checks to cover these expenses.

If I were mayor, these are some of the actions I would take to solve the officer retention problem at the SDPD. I have had countless conversations with officers regarding this issue. I know and share their frustrations related to the city of San Diego’s lack of action to address this problem.

When you take a step back and look at this problem there are three primary stakeholders involved, the city of San Diego government, the citizens of San Diego and the San Diego Police Officers.

A vicious circle is then created amongst these three parties fueled by a lack of trust. The citizens/taxpayers of San Diego do not trust the city government to act appropriately with their tax dollars, so they would have a hard time approving a T.O.T. increase, not to mention a trash collection fee. The San Diego Police Officers do not trust the city government enough to stay around another year to see if they are finally going to be treated fairly in the next round of negotiations.

We will never know, but I can’t help but ask myself if this year the city of San Diego had not changed to a strong mayor form of government would this issue be resolved by now? What I do know is until Mayor Sanders takes action to correct this problem, officers are going to continue to leave SDPD and utilize their half-million dollars in training elsewhere.

Gary Lawrence is a detective in the San Diego Police Department. Send a letter to the editor.

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