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Friday, Oct. 24, 2008 | A San Diego Police Department detective e-mailed three potential recruits this week and told them that, because of the city’s budget crisis, the department was putting all out-of-state hiring on hold.

“I have been instructed to cancel all Out of State (OOS) background processing until we receive official notification from the Command staff on possible budget reallocations. This will subsequently affect the number of Police Officer Recruit positions that our agency will submit for the next police academy,” wrote Detective Mary Alvarez Sandoval, who said in an interview she was told by a superior that the department had stopped interviewing out-of-state applicants.

But according to Executive Assistant Chief of Police David Ramirez, the e-mail, which he said was only sent to three people, was completely inaccurate. The mayor has asked the police department to come up with a proposal for cutting its budget, but nothing’s been finalized and, when it comes to hiring, it’s business at usual at the SDPD, he said.

“She did it on her own,” Ramirez said. “Nothing’s changed. We’re still hiring, we’re still processing both out-of-state and in-state applications.”

The police department has spent the last two years trying to stem what was, until fairly recently, a steady flow of police officers away from the SDPD to other local police departments and public safety agencies. The department’s also been on a year-long drive to recruit new officers from San Diego and around the country.

The department’s had a measure of success. It’s managed to fully stock police academies and two successive pay raises for city cops have helped to keep attrition numbers at the department low. But the city’s latest financial uppercut — the mayor announced a $43 million deficit for city finances last week — could pose a new challenge to staffing at the police department.

The department is currently budgeted for 2,127 employees. According to the Police Officers Association, the union that represents city police officers, there are currently 1,996 employees working for the department. But that number includes 282 people who are inactive employees because they are on administrative or military leave. That leaves 1,713 employees.

Like every other city department, the SDPD has been asked to find 10 percent of its budget that could be cut to help bring the city’s spending in line with its income. Mayoral spokesman Darren Pudgil said cutting the budgets of the police and fire-rescue departments are a last resort, but that the mayor still wants to see proposals from those two agencies.

Ramirez would not discuss details of the police department’s proposal for cutting its budget. The plan is only in its very early phases, and details of it will not be shared with the media until the Mayor’s Office has seen it, he said.

But, last year, 83 percent of the police department’s budget was spent on personnel expenses. A 10-percent cut, if implemented, would almost certainly impact the department’s staffing.

Pudgil acknowledged that budget cuts from public safety departments, though unlikely at the moment, might cut into the city’s drive to hire police officers.

“It’s too early to tell, but that’s something that would be considered,” he said.

Bill Nemec, president of the San Diego Police Officers’ Association, said any budget cuts at the police department would certainly affect spending on personnel. Such cuts would most likely be felt first in the department’s hiring efforts, Nemec said.

Nemec said he’s troubled by the specter of budget cuts. He said the department has only just started to pull itself back into shape after years of hemorrhaging police officers to other local departments, and that recruitment has been looking up for months.

But Nemec also pointed out that the worsening local economy could have the ironic effect of keeping police officers in San Diego, because officers are less likely to take a chance on new departments if they have a guaranteed job in San Diego.

And Nemec said the union will nevertheless ask the city for a pay raise for police officers next year.

“There’s been a repeated call from City Hall to explore new revenue sources, but I haven’t seen that. Until I do, I think it’s more than fair for us to go in there and say ‘yes, police officers deserve a raise,’ ” he said.

The police department isn’t the only city public safety agency that could see recruitment stifled by the budget cuts. Frank DeClercq, president of Local 145, the union that represents city firefighters, said he was told that, among other proposals, the fire department will be proposing suspending its academy for new recruits until the beginning of the new fiscal year in July.

Fire Department Spokesman Maurice Luque said he couldn’t comment about any possible budget cuts at the department. The department currently has an academy scheduled for April 2009, Luque said.

Ramirez said the applicants to the police department who were emailed this week will be contacted and told that their applications will be processed as normal. He said some out-of-state applicants may have their interviews rescheduled because the lieutenant who interviews new recruits is on vacation, but that all pending applications will be processed

He said the mix-up was unfortunate and that even if the department is forced to cut recruitment, it won’t just focus on out-of-state recruits.

“We don’t discriminate against people because they’re from out of state,” he said. “We want to hire the best recruits, no matter where they came from.”

Please contact Will Carless directly at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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