Staffing a police force is an expensive proposition for any municipality. With the benefit packages being what they are, so many senior officers are better to retire early than keep on working. In an era of decreasing union strength the police officers union remains stalwart.
It is not an easy answer for the taxpayers. It is obvious every community wants an effective police force. However, the benefits the officers receive increase city costs for years and the structure of their benefit package should not encourage early retirement.
Analysis: Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox is proud of her South Bay city. She wants people to know how safe it is, despite a recent survey showing many San Diegans perceive the city to be dangerous. Cox said at a recent Voice of San Diego event that being ranked as a safe city is quite a feat given the city’s low number of police officers.
“We unfortunately are among the lowest-staffed police departments in the county,” Cox said.
She’s right. Overall, the Chula Vista Police Department has the lowest number of sworn officers per 1,000 residents out of the 10 local police agencies. CVPD had a little less than one officer per 1,000 residents, according to a 2013 SANDAG study. The county average is 1.29 officers per 1,000 residents and the national average is much higher — 2.5 officers per 1,000 people.
You might be surprised that Chula Vista ranks lowest on this list.
The San Diego Police Department has been very vocal recently about its problem with recruiting and retaining officers. An SDPD union official said this week that the department is currently below the number of cops on the street it needs as the bare minimum to patrol the city. In the SANDAG study, SDPD ranked ninth out of 10 county agencies in officers per 1,000 residents. (SDPD says the problem has gotten worse since then.)
CVPD Capt. Gary Ficacci, who has been with the department for almost 25 years, said CVPD’s staffing has gotten worse since the SANDAG study came out, too. The study said the department had 224 officers but Ficacci said the current number is 209.
He said CVPD has always been lean but the staffing issue has been compounded because of budget cuts and retirements by senior officers. The department would like to at least get back to 224 cops, he said.
“If we found 16 qualified candidates, we’d hire them tomorrow,” Ficacci said.
Cox is trying to make a larger point here: Low police staffing can affect the city’s crime rate. But San Diego State University Public Affairs professor Joshua Chanin said comparisons between police staffing and crime is too simplistic.
“Many people would argue more is better,” Chanin said. “To reduce the equation to staffing and crime is improper in a lot of ways.”
Chanin said research on staffing and crime rates is mixed and the two issues aren’t directly correlated. Crime rates, he said, should not be the only factor departments consider when measuring staffing. Chanin said departments should also measure their success based on factors such as community relations with police, whether or not people feel safe in their neighborhoods and if there’s trust and confidence in the department.
While there may be different ways to measure how a thinly spread police staff affects crime rates in a community, it’s indisputable that police departments across the county are facing historic staffing lows. And Chula Vista has the lowest numbers among them.
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