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Analysis: Mayor Jerry Sanders is pushing a ballot measure to replace pensions with a 401(k)-style plan for all new city employees except police officers. Appearing on KUSI two weeks ago, Sanders explained why he supports the exemption:
These cops can go anywhere they want. They have portability because they have a POST certificate. We get about a third of the police officers from other agencies who come to San Diego. Nobody would come here and I don’t think anybody wants to take a chance on police officers. If you entrust someone to carry a gun, carry a badge, be able to put people in jail, you want the best you can get and a 401(k), when nobody else is on it, will not ensure that.
A POST certificate is essentially the license required for a person to exert the powers that come with being a sworn law enforcement official in California. Once people have it, they can be hired by law enforcement agencies in the state and transfer between agencies without having to go back to a training academy.
The ability to transfer between agencies — or what Sanders called portability — can be good or bad for police departments. It allows them to hire experienced officers without paying and waiting for them to go through training. But it also means officers can more easily leave for better jobs elsewhere, undercutting some of the benefits that come with a veteran police force.
On KUSI, Sanders argued that not offering pensions to new police officers would end up placing San Diego on the losing side of recruitment, which he became familiar with first as a cop and then as the city’s police chief. Without the 401(k) exemption, Sanders said the Police Department would end up getting fewer applicants from other police agencies, claiming they’d made up a significant portion of hires in the past.
But in fact, Sanders’ description of past hires was not accurate. Nowhere near one-third of San Diego’s hires came from other agencies in recent years.
Out of 965 recruits hired since 2002, less than 4 percent were transfers from other law enforcement agencies in the country, according to Police Department personnel statistics. The ratio never came close to one-third in any single year, as illustrated in the graphic to the right.
That undermines the argument Sanders made for exempting police from his proposed 401(k)-style plan. If no officers from other agencies wanted to come to San Diego because it didn’t offer a pension, the Police Department wouldn’t be losing a major pool that it’s recently hired from.
The mayor’s spokesman, Darren Pudgil, acknowledged the mistake in a statement:
During a recent interview on KUSI, Mayor Sanders stated that one-third of the officers in the San Diego Police Department are transfers from other departments. In fact, it is less than that. We regret the error.
Since there’s absolutely no truth to Sanders’ statement, it fits our definition for False. If you disagree, please explain why in the comments section below.