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District 6 City Council candidates Chris Cate and Carol Kim are each trying to show voters they’re most qualified to tackle the San Diego Police Department’s recruitment and retention woes.

Both presented their own plan to cope with police departures at a forum co-sponsored by the city police union last week and used a familiar figure to emphasize how the losses are affecting the city’s bottom line.

Here are two claims the San Diego Police Officers Association posted on Twitter and attributed to the candidates:

[fold-tweet url=”https://twitter.com/SDPOA/status/507351988644749313″]

Kim used the same number to make a big-picture estimate:

[fold-tweet url=”https://twitter.com/SDPOA/status/507354391116922880″]

(Kim’s math was based on the more than 255 officers that left the department between July 2005 and mid-March 2013.)

Both of these statements are misleading.

We fact checked the union’s claim that each new officer requires a $190,000 investment last March. The association relied on the Police Department’s cost analysis for that number, as did Kim’s campaign. Cate’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment.

But that estimate includes some questionable costs.

At the time, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman provided this breakdown for what she described as a $191,785 expense:

• Pre-employment vetting: $4,200-$4,300

This covers testing, a background check by the San Diego Police Department and psychological and medical evaluations.

• Salary and benefits: $93,600

This includes both salary, benefits and pension costs. The officer’s total compensation during the six-month academy is $39,600. For the remainder of the year it’s $44,000. Police also add an estimated $10,000 in overtime to reach the $93,600 total. Zimmerman said the overtime is based on the average amount of extra work expected for critical incidents or court hearings on days off.

• Equipment and Academy Tuition: $14,500

This includes an officer’s duty pistol, laptop, radio, protective vest and other supplies. In most cases, officers must return these items if they leave the department. This cost also covers tuition at the San Diego Regional Public Safety Training Institute at Miramar College.

• Instruction: $25,385

This covers academy instruction costs, as well as management of the department’s shooting range and training provided by the Police Department.

• Training in the field: $54,000

After an officer graduates from the police academy, he’s assigned to a series of veteran officers who evaluate his performance and provide on-the-job training. At least four senior officers assist each newcomer for a one-month period and those officers receive additional pay for their efforts. Those additional amounts, as well as a portion of the officer’s regular salary, are incorporated into the estimated investment cost.

Two of those categories are problematic. Both the rookie and veteran officers still patrol city streets and make arrests during on-the-job training. And the more experienced officers would collect a paycheck even if they weren’t offering guidance to new officers.

Zimmerman has previously said that the six-figure dollar amount is an investment rather than a budget line item.

“We’re not saying in order to bring on an officer (requires) $191,000 in the budget,” she said last March. “What we’re saying is (this) is the investment cost.”

But an investment is something set aside or offered up for future gain. In this case, the department is getting a return almost immediately. The new and experienced officers receive paychecks during their on-the-job training and the department benefits from their service.

Thus, the $54,000 estimate for training and the $44,000 in salary and benefits officers receive after training – an amount that’s increased slightly due to the police union’s latest city contract – are excessive.

The roughly $190,000 estimate would be substantially less if the department only considered direct spending on its new officers.

Jeff Jordon, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, offered another argument. He said the figure is actually conservative because most of the officers leaving have spent at least a few years on the job and gained additional training and experience.

Some are SWAT officers or specially trained detectives, Jordon said, which would make them worth more.

This perspective adds another wrinkle to the $190,000 estimate. The cost to train an individual officer may be far less – and the value they rack up with additional years and training could be far more.

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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