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My Grandpa was not an educated man. In fact, I don’t believe he ever finished junior high school. However, I learned more from his 95 years of wisdom than I ever learned in college or from a career experience.
On one occasion, when I did something exceptionally infuriating, Grandpa caught me and I can remember apologizing over and over again, while promising not to do it anymore. His response was simple, “What you do speaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say.” I know it just means actions speak louder than words, but I always liked the way Grandpa said it better.
I was thinking about Grandpa’s wisdom and how it applies to the relationship between city hall politicians and the San Diego Police Department.
Let’s go back to the city of San Diego council chambers on July 11th 2006, where Mayor Sanders made a really nice video presentation to the San Diego Police Officers, who are still leaving this department in unprecedented numbers. The mayor’s message includes the following phrases: “I appreciate you … we want you to stay, we need you to stay … public safety is my highest priority … the loss of experienced police officers is a crisis.”
The mayor’s words had no impact on me, because I remembered the mayor and City Council members had just ignored the claims of the San Diego Police Officer’s Association (SDPOA) that parts of the city were not being adequately staffed and officer attrition was a real threat to public safety when they voted for impasse 70 days earlier. This was the third time an imposed contract was forced upon the SDPOA in the last six years, so much for the theory that the police association has forced massive concessions from city government.
When the council and mayor decide go to impasse with the SDPOA, this action drowns out anything else they might say about how important public safety is to a community. You see, politicians don’t necessarily divide the budget pie on what is good for the citizens, they divide it politically between the hundreds of organizations seeking every tax dollar.
When they repeatedly vote for an impasse city government sends the following messages. First, public safety is not important enough to cut monies from other politically sensitive programs and next, safety is not a vital enough issue to raise fees or taxes to pay for it. Politicians always praise SDPD and say that public safety is their highest priority, but when it comes to providing funding for a fair contract for SDPD cops they show how they really feel when they vote. When politicians routinely say one thing and do another it erodes trust and makes believing anything they say difficult.
I find the hypocrisy at city hall maddening regarding public safety, but what upsets me more is the politician’s use of the local government propaganda machine, i.e. the U-T editorial board, to attack the benefits that cops currently have and suggest the SDPOA is at fault for the staffing problems.
I’ll start with a quote from page 88 of the Kroll Report to demonstrate my point,
…San Diego’s package of employee retirement benefits does not appear to be overly generous or expensive.
However, failing to fund them can cause serious problems. You will never see the quote listed above anywhere in the U-T or mentioned by a politician; they are too busy painting the employees as the root of all the city’s financial problems. The propaganda machine convinces citizens that all could be fixed if only the city switched to a 401(k) style retirement plan or raised the retirement ages for cops.
The 3 percent at 50 retirement plan is the plan offered by virtually every department in this state and it is not exclusive to San Diego, nor was it bought with “jacked up” union campaign cash as I once read in the U-T. As for implementing a 401(k) style retirement plan, while other departments keep a defined plan, well let’s just say any hope of ever finding enough recruits will be over the day that happens. I am not going to discuss the Deferred Retirement Option Plan in this blog, because Mark Sullivan will be the café host on Thursday. He is the police representative to the SDCER’s board and he has infinitely more knowledge as to how much money this program has saved the city.
As for being able to retire at 50, law enforcement agencies across the country were able to negotiate this benefit, because studies show they die about 13 years earlier than people in other professions. Go to www.cophealth.com for additional details on law enforcement mortality rates.
Finally, I hear citizens say they would be willing to pay cops more if they had a college degree, as if the college experience somehow translates into being a more valuable employee. Ask a human resources person in the city of San Diego who is easier and cheaper to recruit, a police trainee with a high school diploma or a guy with a J.D. from Harvard looking to join the city attorney’s office. The HR person will tell you that they have to invest at least a $125,000 to recruit, train, and graduate an applicant to the San Diego Police Department (assuming they can find one), versus the minimal cost of a wannabe lawyer who will be paying for his law degree on his own. The capital investment in SDPD officers is huge; Chief Lansdowne estimates it at $560,000 per officer over the first five years of a cop’s career. Thus, since 100 cops left for agencies in the last two years of contract impasses, and they had on average much more than five years experience each, the financial cost to the city can be conservatively estimated at 56 million dollars. There is no way to calculate or make up for the experience, knowledge and wisdom they take with them.
You see, Grandpa also taught me how to see the value of things by coin collecting. The sad fact is that recruits to SDPD are becoming rarer than the coins he kept in his bedroom closet.