The Chula Vista Police Department. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

There is a public safety crisis in Chula Vista.

The police department has been understaffed for about a decade. It is dead last in sworn officer-to-population ratio when compared to all other law enforcement agencies in San Diego County.

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As a result, felony arrests in Chula Vista are down 41 percent. Misdemeanor arrests are down 26 percent. Traffic citations are down 49 percent. The number of school resource officers has been cut in half.

At the department, I supervise the violent crimes unit and the detectives who follow up on robberies, carjacking’s, assaults and other violent crimes. At any given time, there is a backlog of more than 100 violent crime investigations and victims who we cannot contact because we do not have enough detectives to work their cases.

About once a week, for instance, we’re called to investigate an unknown suspect accused of committing assault and battery.

Here’s one such scenario. A family spending time at one of our neighborhood parks has an issue with a transient. The family reserved a picnic table and benches to host a party, but the person, who probably calls the park home, refuses to move on. He becomes belligerent with the dad; there’s a scuffle and dad ends up being punched in the face and gets a bloody nose.

The mom calls 911 to report the incident. However, there are not enough patrol officers working to respond right away. By the time the officer arrives, the transient is gone. He now becomes an unknown suspect; the officer takes a report, then hands off the case to investigators. If the officer had gotten there sooner, they could have been in time to catch the suspect. The delay in responding to calls like this prevents our ability to make arrests.

A few days go by and the victim calls to see what’s happening with the investigation. The short answer is nothing. We can’t follow up. Even if we could, we probably can’t make an arrest. It gets frustrating for the crime victims, and the detectives who take pride in helping our citizens. This is happening in every investigative unit within the department.

It’s a domino effect that begins with the first call to dispatch and ends with an overburdened investigative division. The most important staffing that we can add is to uniformed patrol for better response times. We need to catch suspects when crimes are occurring.

This is not an attempt to scare Chula Vistans. It’s not a publicity stunt by a disgruntled union official. We are not trying to get more salary or benefits. We are not crying wolf. It’s a reality check. We are being honest and forthright with the public. We want to meet their needs.

The Chula Vista City Council addressed the crisis by unanimously voting to place a measure on the June 5 ballot. It will increase staffing for both the police and fire departments and is fully endorsed by the Chula Vista Police Officers Association.

The public may be hesitant to support another sales tax measure. But consider that, while Chula Vista’s population has grown 9 percent since the recession, staffing levels have fallen 11 percent below pre-recession levels. It will get worse as the city’s population continues to grow and there is no identified funding to keep pace with that growth.

Chula Vista has a reputation for being a safe city. The staffing crisis is causing us to not meet our response times for priority 1 emergency calls, but the truth is that we haven’t met our emergency response time standard in four years. Our targeted response time to priority 2 urgent calls has not been met in 19 years and that’s embarrassing to admit to the public.

In my 18 years on the department, I have never seen it this bad. We should not be last in the county in officers per capita. Chula Vistans should not have to wait hours for an officer. It’s not OK that we don’t have enough investigators to take on misdemeanor cases.

We have to move as quickly as possible in finding a solution to our staffing crisis. It is extremely important to our community. Let’s work together to solve this problem.

The citizens deserve a fix now.

David Oyos is president of the Chula Vista Police Officers Association and works as a sergeant for the department. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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