A year ago, the San Diego Police Department’s top brass pushed against an article I wrote about the city’s new policing strategy.

I found the department had gradually shifted away from the proactive, problem-solving concept that gained international acclaim in the 1990s. San Diego’s cops were spending much more time reacting to crimes than addressing the underlying causes.

City and police officials attributed that shift to budget cuts and Police Chief Bill Lansdowne’s priorities. When the budget ax fell on San Diego police, Lansdowne chose to dismantle proactive functions in order to maintain patrol levels and response times.

At the time of my story, police leaders acknowledged the shift but disputed its impact on the community. A major part of the former strategy had been working with residents to solve chronic problems. My research showed that’s been happening less often recently.

Police, however, argued that their relationships with the community were still stronger than ever before. Here’s an excerpt from a letter by Asst. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman in response to my story:

Members of our department at all ranks routinely attend more than 170 community meetings each month. This is in addition to the many community events attended each weekend. The accessibility of our department has never been greater because the outreach today takes place throughout our entire city.

But now, in a new report to the City Council, police say their ties to the community have become stressed. They’re seeking more funding — $66 million over the next five years — and argue the money would help restore some of the proactive functions they’ve lost.

Here’s an excerpt from the report on the Police Department’s relationship with the community:

The greatest concern raised by most community members is that officers have become less visible and there has been a perceived decrease in police presence in recent years. Citizens reported seeing fewer bike and foot patrols, and observing less enforcement of crime and quality of life violations. As a result, there is also a perception that crime is increasing.

Citizens believe that officers are spending less time on problem solving and less time interacting with the public. This includes informal interaction in public places, attendance at community meetings, and taking less time during radio calls to discuss problem resolution or crime prevention. It is perceived that some officers are sacrificing effectiveness for efficiency. In other words, rather than investing time in long-term problem solving, community partnership building and crime prevention, they are clearing calls quickly in order to respond to the next call in the queue.

With additional funding to hire more officers and non-sworn staff, police say more of an officer’s time would be freed up for proactive, community efforts. They also say the money would also decrease response times, reduce overtime costs, upgrade equipment and address regular maintenance needs.

A City Council committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal today at 2 p.m. To watch the hearing online, click here.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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