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Statement: “We’re treading on water that we haven’t walked on before. Nobody in the San Diego Police Department has had to do this, but it would mean that nonviolent calls — crimes that are not in progress — we might take over the phone as opposed to responding a police officer to them. That’s what other cities have had to do as they cut back personnel and it would be something that we have to look at,” San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said at a press conference Oct. 5 about proposed cuts to police services next year.

Determination: False

Analysis: San Diego Police Department dispatchers already refer some low-priority crimes to a specialized unit of light-duty officers who take complaints and file crime reports by phone.

Last year, the Centralized Telephone Reporting Unit handled about 30,000 of these calls.

On its face, Lansdowne’s statement implied that the unit doesn’t exist and the department might have to start responding to nonviolent crimes by phone after another round of budget cuts. He said, “Nobody in the San Diego Police Department has had to do this.”

But that’s not what Lansdowne actually meant, his attorney, Paul Cooper, said in an interview about the statement. Cooper said Lansdowne obviously meant to convey that the department might expand the types of calls that get referred to the telephone unit, which has happened in other cities facing pinched budgets.

“It would be so ridiculous to suggest that there are nonviolent calls that we don’t respond to (by phone),” Cooper said in defense of Lansdowne’s statement. “I don’t think that sentence implies that and I don’t think he intended to say that.”

At the press conference, Lansdowne didn’t say which crimes the department might stop sending officers to or outline what the department currently does with the telephone unit. He spent a greater amount of time talking about more costly cuts to police services, such as laying off more than 100 police officers and closing two stations.

The announcements came as voters weigh whether to approve a sales tax increase through Proposition D. Without new revenue and facing a $70 million deficit, proponents have forecasted deep cuts next year to city services, especially public safety.

We’ve called Lansdowne’s statement false because he said that these cuts would force SDPD to do something that it hasn’t had to do. In fact, it already does it.

We did, however, ask the Police Department to clarify which types of low-priority calls would be discussed for the telephone unit’s expansion. Cooper provided the following list with the caveat that crimes with known suspects or unusual circumstances would receive a higher priority response.

Forgery, shoplifting and petty theft, vandalism, lost property, illegal dumping, mail theft, identity theft, vehicle tampering, loud music, embezzlement, unauthorized cable TV use, hit and run, and abandoned vehicles.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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