Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 | “I never give them hell. I just tell the truth, and they think it is hell.” nHarry S. Truman
My blogs today are probably not going to make me any friends within SDPD, the San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA) or with our elected city officials, but it will be the truth as I see it.
Over the last six years, the SDPOA and the city of San Diego have failed to reach contract agreements three times. When this happens, the city tells cops what their pay and benefits are going to be, not the other way around as the editorial board at The San Diego Union-Tribune would have its readers believe. I hope this dispels the myth of the almighty SDPOA.
The imposed contracts have resulted in disastrous consequences for officers, the police department and the city as a whole. Additionally, matters are made worse by our wild card city attorney’s reckless statements about benefits already agreed upon in previous contracts, specifically the purchase of service credits, and an editorial board at the U-T that promotes solutions to our city’s problems that are workable in a place known only as “Fantasy Land.”
During SDPD’s recruitment and retention crisis (as the mayor called it on July 11), the SDPOA has tried, sometimes with controversial methods, to tell the public the consequences of having a substandard compensation package relative to other police departments. These consequences include an inability to recruit the best and brightest candidates, an exodus of experienced officers that will cost the city taxpayer tens of millions of dollars in additional training costs, the failure of the department to meet minimum patrol staffing levels and a dramatic rise in homicides and robberies.
Mayor Jerry Sanders replies by pointing to statistics that show that violent crime is still down and the city is safe. Statistically speaking, the mayor is correct. However, statistics are just one aspect of determining the safety of a city and they can be manipulated. This is why the FBI cautions against using them to rank the safety of cities. As to manipulating statistics, it’s pretty easy.
For example, the San Diego Police Department’s response time goal to Priority 1 calls (serious crimes in progress) is 12 minutes. The department has been unable to meet this goal in over six years, so it changed the types of calls that make up a Priority 1 dispatch. If you want to impact gang crime statistics, you change the reporting criteria for it.
For instance, as I understand it, gang crime in this city is now only gang crime when one documented gang member commits a crime against another documented gang member. I think a citizen that gets robbed at gunpoint by a gang member may think differently as to if this should be reported as a gang related crime or not.
The above being said, I agree with the mayor that the city is still relatively safe. Where I take issue with the mayor and others, is in their failing to honestly tell citizens about the state of the San Diego Police Department and where it is heading.
So I would like to give you an assessment of my workplace:
The San Diego Police Department has been cut to the bone.
To bolster patrol staffing proactive units have been dismantled, the number of officers assigned to juvenile and community services have been drastically cut, and officers assigned to task forces have been recalled. Even with these changes, we simply do not have enough officers to go around and the wear is beginning to show. Officers that have chosen to remain with SDPD are exhausted. Patrol officers are being overwhelmed by priority calls involving violence. Fewer patrol officers means you get dispatched to more calls and have less time to arrest criminals before they commit their crimes. This is not difficult to understand. When I first joined SDPD, we used to patrol North Park and University Heights with seven officers and a sergeant. Recently, we have patrolled Western Division, a 26 square mile area with 176,000 residents, with roughly the same number of officers that we used to patrol just two areas of it.
As for SDPD detectives, they have case loads that are not manageable. This means the quality of their investigations suffers and as they get crushed with new cases added to their desks every morning.
If one believes that officers can take time off to recover from these stresses think again. Not only is SDPD the lowest paid department in the region, we also accrue the least amount of sick and vacation time. This makes taking time off to recover from job stresses difficult at best.
The groups I feel most sympathy for within the police department are the recruiters, the academy staff and the field training officers. These guys truly have their work cut out for them. Contrary to the reports I see SDPD brass giving to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee members, the quality of our recruits has really slipped as of late. Yet, it is still being reported that SDPD has not lowered our standards. Well, let’s explore this commonly repeated statement.
The San Diego Police Department has minimum standards that must be met by a candidate before you enter the police academy. The question then becomes, does the community want a cop that barely meets the minimum standards in their time of crisis or one that far surpasses them. It is the difference between getting an “A” student and a “D” student. As someone who has filled in as a field-training officer for this department, I am here to tell you a few of our recently hired officers should not be crossing guards, much less carrying a gun.
The San Diego Police Department’s Five-Year Plan predicted this would happen. It says:
Recent history in cities like Los Angeles and Miami has demonstrated that failing to hire or retain qualified police officers results in “emergency” hiring practices that significantly reduce the quality of the officers on the Department and undermines the trust citizens have in their law enforcement agency.
To be fully staffed by 2010, with our current attrition rates, SDPD needs to hire about 900 cops in the next three years. This is roughly half the department. To accomplish this huge task, it is going to take brutal honesty, political will not recently demonstrated, the support of the public, creative solutions from the SDPOA and help from the business community.
Jeff Jordon is a patrol officer for the San Diego Police Department. Send a letter to the editor here.