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Image: TrueStatement: “The Police Department lost an average of 10 officers a month last year. Many officers left due to retirement or better pay and benefits offered by other agencies,” mayoral candidate and Councilman Kevin Faulconer wrote in his plan to rebuild the San Diego Police Department.

Determination: True

Analysis: Mayoral contender Kevin Faulconer just released his plan to bolster police staffing and retain officers already working for the Police Department.

The city councilman’s three-point plan suggests the city should revamp its recruitment practices, increase police compensation and invest in necessary supplies.

Faulconer used a couple key statistics to emphasize the need for reform. He claimed that the Police Department lost an average of 10 officers monthly last year due to retirement or more attractive pay and benefits elsewhere. He also said the department lost 51 potential officers to other agencies often because the city’s hiring process dragged so long they were scooped up by another employer.

As the mayor’s race gets under way, Faulconer and others will cite these stats repeatedly. These data points are likely to shape the conversation about necessary reforms under the next mayor’s watch.

Let’s start with Faulconer’s claim about the number of officers who left the department in fiscal year 2013, which ran July 2012 to June 2013.

Police Department statistics show 119 officers left the department last year, which indeed averages to about 10 officers a month.

As those officers left the Police Department, each filled out paperwork that touched on why they were moving on, Assistant Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said.

Here’s a look at their reasons for leaving.

The majority – about 60 percent – retired or medically retired, which means a medical condition compromised their ability to stay on the job, last year.

Zimmerman said at least some of the officers moved on to other agencies but couldn’t provide specific figures.

At the same time, about 30 percent of officers simply checked a box that indicates they left for miscellaneous reasons. Zimmerman suspects that category includes many officers who went to other agencies.

Only 15 officers checked a box on the Police Department form that indicated they were joining another law enforcement agency.

Zimmerman said many of those officers – and others who retired or didn’t officially state their reasons for leaving in police paperwork – privately told former colleagues they sought larger paychecks and improved benefits.

“I’ve had several officers in my office that have told me they’re going to leave, and it’s for better pay and benefits,” Zimmerman said.

Indeed, recent Chula Vista Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department job postings indicate they’ll offer up to $5,000 signing bonuses for veteran officers.

And a May U-T San Diego story mentioned two San Diego officers who joined the Chula Vista force and immediately increased their take-home pay by at least $1,100 a month.

The numbers Zimmerman provided support Faulconer’s statement that an average of 10 officers left each month in 2013, and that many officers left as a result of retirements or other jobs.  Anecdotal evidence also reveals that the number of officers who left to take higher-paying police job may be higher than Police Department statistics reveal.

Those factors make Faulconer’s claim true.


Image: TrueStatement: “In fiscal year 2013, the Police Department lost 51 of its prospective officers to other agencies, and many of them reported that the length of the hiring process contributed to their decision,” Faulconer wrote in his plan to rebuild the San Diego Police Department.

Determination: True

Analysis: Police have said they aren’t just having trouble retaining officers but they’re also struggling to hire enough to replace those who are leaving.

The problem could grow as about half of San Diego officers will be eligible to retire within four years. If the Police Department continues hiring at its current rate and an average of 10 officers leave the agency each month, the department projects it won’t reach its budgeted staffing of 1,977 officers until October 2026.

As of Monday, the city was short about 136 officers.

Faulconer and police leaders have suggested for months that the city’s hiring process is complicating matters.

Earlier this year, police reported problems with the city personnel department’s hiring process. Those issues inspired Faulconer to emphasize the need to streamline the city’s hiring process in his police plan.

But did the department really lose 51 potential officers to other agencies last fiscal year?

Zimmerman said police collected information from prospective officers who reported plans to go elsewhere after beginning the hiring process at the San Diego Police Department.

Last year, 51 would-be cops told police they had been hired by another police department, she said.

“Many of them did tell us that they opted out of our process because it was taking too long,” Zimmerman said.

Here’s a look at the other agencies where those potential officers ended up.

Zimmerman said some of those would-be officers told San Diego Police Department recruiters that they had applied online and waited as long as 14 weeks for a response or update on the next step in the hiring process.

Jeff Jordon, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, has said some applicants had also approached the union to say they had waited weeks to hear from the city after submitting their application.

He raised concerns about the length of time it was taking the city’s personnel department to contact applicants at a July 24 meeting where the City Council’s rules subcommittee discussed the city’s hiring and recruitment process.

“In the meantime, while we’re waiting weeks to respond to these applicants, we are at a disadvantage because we know we are in a competitive job market in regards to police recruits,” Jordon said. “They are taking tests elsewhere. They’re not just applying here.”

At that meeting, Faulconer directed Zimmerman and Personnel Director Hadi Dehghani to work together to address the delays.

The assistant police chief said the situation has since improved and applicants are now hearing back from the city within two to three weeks of submitting an application. She said a $2 million recruitment and retention program Faulconer and other City Council members pushed has also allowed the city to take more proactive steps to draw applicants, including an Oct. 5 recruiting expo.

Zimmerman is hopeful both changes, as well as other investments included in the City Council-approved program, will help the city attract and retain more officers this year.

But Faulconer’s statement centered on the situation last year.

He claimed the city lost 51 prospective officers last year, and that’s true. He also said delays in the city’s hiring process contributed to potential officers’ decisions not to join the San Diego Police Department.

This latter part of Faulconer’s statement was less straightforward. It’s difficult to know for sure exactly why officers decided against a job with the San Diego Police Department. There are a variety of reasons one might go elsewhere, including more competitive pay.

Still, Faulconer only claimed the length of the hiring process contributed to prospective officers’ decision not to continue to pursue a job in San Diego, so I decided his claim is true.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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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