Councilwoman Marti Emerald prides herself on public safety know-how but she accidentally amplified the San Diego Police Department’s retention problem by about 300 percent in a Tuesday press release.

At about 3:25 p.m. Tuesday, Emerald’s office sent out a release with this eye-popping statistic:

 The San Diego Police Department say they are losing nearly 40 officers a month to retirement or other law enforcement agencies that offer better pay and benefits.

That’s far more than the 10-officer-per-month average the police department reported in the 2013 fiscal year and has seen so far this year. (The stat caught our eye, since it was so far off the numbers we just fleshed out in a Fact Check.)

Emerald’s office emailed a corrected statement with the 10 officer-per-month statistic shortly after I called to ask about the release.

Spokeswoman Marisa Berumen said Emerald couldn’t remember where she got the incorrect figure but decided to send out the corrected figure after her office conferred with Assistant Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who oversees the department’s recruiting and retention efforts.

Now, everyone slips up sometimes, and we’re no exception.

But there are three big reasons Emerald should have gotten her numbers right.

Emerald is chair of the city’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, a post she’s held for about five years.

The department oversees issues involving police, paramedics, firefighters and others.

In that role, she regularly receives updates from police leaders about the department’s staffing challenges. In fact, for a time, Emerald asked Zimmerman to provide monthly updates to the City Council subcommittee on the topic

All City Council members regularly receive updates on police staffing.

“We do not keep our staffing numbers secret,” Zimmerman said. “Each week we send out a weekly staffing report to the City Council, mayor’s office and the independent budget analyst.”

As of Monday, Zimmerman said, the city had seen 30 officers leave the department so far this year.

The latest weekly report went out on Monday.

Losing 40 officers a month would be a full-blown crisis.

San Diego police are far from meeting the staffing goals set out in the city’s five-year plan for the department and even fall short of meeting budgeted staffing levels.

In fact, if the department continues to hold four academies a year with 34 recruits, it will never meet the goals in its five-year plan.

But if the roughly 1,840-person department were losing 40 officers a month, the situation would be far more dire. It would translate into a 26 percent drop in staffing in a single year.

Update: Emerald responded to this post on Wednesday morning.

Here’s her full email to me:

Good morning, Lisa.

Thank you for catching my mistake.

No excuses. I did not take enough time to proof my copy.

As you said in your report, we sent a corrected version of the release to all local media as soon as you pointed out my error.

Again, thanks for the heads up.

With that said, even with an average 10 officers a month leaving we do have a full blown crisis, in my opinion.

We are already short the numbers we need. And new recruits out of our academies are barely producing a net gain of officers on the street.

Ask (Assistant Police) Chief (Shelley) Zimmerman. She says in the last year the department saw a net gain of only one or two officers, after she factored in retirements, resignations and officers leaving for other agencies.

Compare this to the daunting fact that half of our police officers are eligible for retirement in the next four years. That’s about 900 of the city’s most experienced crime fighters, out the door. Chief Zimmerman has made it clear in her presentations to our Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee these numbers paint a bleak picture for SDPD and public safety.

This is why I am carving out time at our Oct. 30 meeting of the Public Safety Committee, to consider re-opening contract negotiations with police officers….two years ahead of schedule. Based on all the information we have received from the police chief on down, pay and benefits must improve if we hope to fix our problem recruiting and retaining police officers.

Our officers are woefully underpaid compared to their counterparts in other agencies.

Until the city of San Diego corrects this disparity, we will continue chasing the deficit on our police force, in crisis mode with public safety.

Thank you for your interest in this important issue. I hope you join us at Committee, Oct. 30.


Marti Emerald

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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