A tentative salary agreement was announced Friday meant to alleviate a chronic problem at the San Diego Police Department: veteran officers leaving for better-paying jobs with other police departments.
After years of tight budgets, and failure of a 2010 ballot measure for a sales tax boost, a city study last year found that San Diego police salaries rank at or near the bottom of 18 other agencies in categories ranging from rookie officer to captain.
The result, officials have complained, is that officers receive their training and early experience in the San Diego department and then leave for other departments, particularly the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
As officers have departed, the city was left with a depleted force and the expense of training new officers. To avoid that expense, the city has often resorted to leaving jobs vacant.
The tentative agreement — announced by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, and Brian Marvel, president of the police officers union — would boost police pay by approximately 6.6% over five years. The plan must be ratified by the union membership and the City Council.
"This is an important milestone for our Police Department," Marvel said. "For years, our officers have been leaving our department at an alarming rate for greener pastures."
Like other city of San Diego departments, the Police Department has been affected by the national recession and the city's historically tightfisted approach to governance.
Along with officer jobs going unfilled, civilian jobs have been eliminated and programs considered central to the department's community-oriented policing strategy have been disbanded. Neighborhood storefronts were closed.
San Diego has long had one of the smallest police departments of any big city in the country. Last year, as the economy improved, it hired 160 officers but 162 left through retirement or for other jobs.
A recent national study by WalletHub, a personal finance research firm, found that of 15 California cities in the study, only Bakersfield and Modesto spend less per capita on police services than San Diego.
Faulconer, elected a year ago, has promised to hire more police officers. But unless the attrition rate slows, the amount targeted for the budget will probably only be enough to replace those who are leaving.
In November 2010, San Diego voters overwhelmingly rejected a half-cent sales tax boost that then-Mayor Jerry Sanders said was essential to avoid further reductions in police and fire services. Among the leaders in the campaign against the measure was Faulconer, then a City Council member representing a beachfront district.
Even as Friday's agreement was announced, Faulconer noted that it is structured to comply with a measure adopted by voters in 2012 to freeze city pensions.
Raises will be accomplished through a direct pay boost, plus more holiday pay and an increase in healthcare, equipment and uniform allowances.