Staffing crisis prompts raises of 25 to 30 percent for San Diego police

The steep pay hikes come as the number of city officers dropped to 1,801, which is 13 percent less than the goal of 2,040


By David Garrick
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — San Diego will boost pay for police officers between 25 and 30 percent to help solve a crisis of departing officers that has lengthened response times, limited proactive policing and ballooned overtime budgets.

The steep pay hikes, which also aim to help attract recruits to the police academy, come as the number of city officers has dropped to 1,801 -- 13 percent less than the city's goal of 2,040.

City and police officials have blamed the vacancy crisis primarily on San Diego officers being among the lowest paid in the region and the state, prompting many officers to transfer to other law enforcement agencies with higher pay.

All officers will get cumulative hikes of at least 25.6 percent between next July and January 2020, and veterans with more than 20 years on the job will get 30.6 percent raises.

But 6.6 percent of those raises -- 3.3 percent in July 2018 and July 2019 -- was already included in a $92 million labor pact with officers the city approved in spring 2015. So the amount of new money is between 19 and 24 percent.

"This landmark investment into our police force will help ensure San Diego stays one of the safest big cities in America for decades to come," said Mayor Kevin Faulconer. "We face a significant police officer recruitment and retention crisis that demands this kind of action."

The tentative pact with the police officers labor union still must be approved by local officers and the City Council.

Union president Brain Marvel said he expects the deal to make a big difference.

"By employing a new strategy with regard to SDPD recruitment and retention, one based on competitive compensation, the city is sending the right message to our experienced officers, catching the eye of the quality laterals and recruits we want to attract, and giving taxpayers more value for their tax dollars," Marvel said.

Council members have expressed strong support for higher police compensation, despite the city facing tight budgets in coming years as tax revenues plateau and pension payments continue to rise.

The contract would cost the city $66.2 million over the two years it covers. It's not clear how much it would increase the city's $2.6 billion pension debt.

Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who is retiring in March, also praised the deal.

"Our officers are the finest men and women I have ever had the privilege to work with," she said. "Knowing their hard work and dedication to our city is being acknowledged like this will make an enormous difference for our current and future officers. In a very competitive market for police officers, this is a game changer."

Zimmerman has stressed during the staffing crisis that San Diego's crime rate has remained relatively low for such a large city.

FBI statistics released last month show that only four of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the nation have lower rates for violent crime and property crime than San Diego.

And for the fifth year in a row, the city of San Diego had the lowest murder rate among the country's 10 largest cities, at 3.6 killings per 100,000 people.

But staffing concerns go beyond the current crisis and into the future, with the number of new San Diego police officer applicants dipping more than 30 percent over the last two years, and about 600 of the department's 1,800 officers are eligible to retire by 2022.

The proposed raises come two months after the city approved a $4 million increase to stipends officers receive to pay for their uniforms and other equipment.

That increase boosted the annual amount from $900 to $2,405 for all officers, with an additional $2,100 per year going to officers with less than eight years of experience.

And in June, the City Council added $300,000 to the Police Department budget to cover additional overtime pay so officers can work longer hours when there are personnel shortages.

The budget also includes $350,000 for a marketing effort to boost recruitment, which has become crucial with recent police academies running at about half capacity.

The city is also paying $150,000 for a compensation study under way that aims to determine how officer pay in San Diego compares to other law enforcement agencies for rookies, longtime veterans and those in between.

An independent survey in fall 2014 showed San Diego police officers are at or near the bottom of the pay scale when compared to their counterparts in 18 other large cities and counties in California.

A recent analysis by the Union-Tribune shows San Diego rookies make $4,166 a month, compared with $5,730 in La Mesa, $4,910 for sheriff's deputies, $5,243 in El Cajon and $6,123 in Chula Vista.

Some council members say that in addition to studying officer compensation, they would like to explore why officers are leaving in case there are additional reasons beyond pay.

The proposed contract, which the union's members are scheduled to reject or approve in an online vote in coming days, starts next July with raises of 8.3 percent that include 3.3 percent already approved in 2015.

Officers would then get another 5 percent increase in January 2019, a previously approved 3.3 percent hike in July 2019 and then a 5 percent boost in January 2020.

In addition, officers with 20 or more years of service would get 5 percent more in July 2019, increasing the 3.3 percent to 8.3 percent.

And all officers would get 4 percent more in increases in July 2019, but that additional pay would be in exchange for negotiated changes in flexible health care benefits.

"This is a fair agreement that makes San Diego officers' salaries highly competitive and encourages veteran officers to stay and grow within SDPD," Mayor Faulconer said. "San Diego has the best police department in the nation, and now every current officer and prospective recruit has great new reasons to choose SDPD."

Marvel, the union president, wrote in the latest edition of the union newsletter that this fall's raises should be viewed as part of a two-step process, with additional hikes expected when this contract ends in 2020.

Copyright 2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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