The Morning Report
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Note: Fred Sainz hosted the Café San Diego on Wednesday.

Saturday, April 14, 2007 | The mayor announced an agreement today with the Police Officers Association. The agreement includes a raise that will no doubt be the subject of much scrutiny so I appreciate the opportunity to explain the mayor’s thinking on the issue of police recruitment and retention. The agreement also includes a number of very important reforms for city government. Click here to go to a fact sheet on the subject that provides a very comprehensive treatment of the issue.

The mayor did not set out to give a raise to police officers or to any other employee group. In fact, when this issue first surfaced, the City Council took the mayor to task for “not caring enough about police officers.” The mayor’s rationale was and remains that the city has a number of very serious financial problems that must be addressed. In the end though, it was his judgment that our public safety would be harmed if we did not do everything possible to retain our experienced officers and/or attract new ones to fill vacant positions. And that is only possible by means of a pay increase.

In response to a market condition — a market condition in which there are more job openings for police officers regionally and nationally than there are qualified candidates — the announced agreement today with the San Diego Police Officers Association focused on reversing the loss of experienced officers by improving pay and benefits. Incidentally, the recruitment and retention issue does not exist for any other category of city employees. The mayor’s FY08 budget, for instance, will not include a pay raise for unclassified employees.

The result of the national recruitment and retention problem is that police departments that offer better compensation packages win over candidates.

Due to the city’s financial situation, San Diego Police Department officers have not received a raise in two years and are at the bottom of the compensation list when compared to other competing departments. The consequences of that are that the SDPD is currently down more than 200 officers with another approximately 200 officers set to retire next fiscal year. If we did nothing, we would lose even more officers.

Reforms are the hallmark of this agreement. A central tenant of the agreement is that the city will be providing better health care coverage for officers at a lower cost. This approach is a dramatic change for the city and one that the mayor is committed to accomplish as a key reform for how the city provides benefits. The city will be moving away from a cafeteria-style plan to one in which the health care benefits are based upon a percentage of funding.

For example, if you’re an officer that has a spouse and family and opt for Kaiser, the city will cover 75 percent of your coverage — savings to officers of approximately $2,600. As part of the agreement, the city will begin the consolidation of the 21 health care plans currently administered by the employee unions. The goal will be three plans for all city employees. For the POA alone, this move will save the city approximately $800,000, assuming current enrollment. In the end, the city will provide better coverage for less money. The city will also be ending a workers compensation program that will save $2 million.

As I said at the beginning, the entire purpose of our negotiations was to stem the loss of officers and to recruit new ones. This contract goes a long way toward achieving that goal. It is the mayor’s hope that our experienced officers will remain with the department and that we will be able to attract new ones.

Agree? Disagree? Send a letter to the editor.

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