SAN DIEGO, CA — San Diego boosted pay between 25 percent and 30 percent for the city’s police officers on Tuesday to help solve a crisis of departing officers that has lengthened response times, limited proactive policing and ballooned overtime budgets.
The City Council unanimously approved the pay hikes, which also aim to attract recruits to the police academy. They come as the number of officers has dropped to about 1,820 — more than 10 percent below a goal of 2,040.
In a separate action, the council unanimously approved 24.1 percent pay raises for 9-1-1 fire and medical dispatchers to boost recruiting and retention as the city strives to shrink emergency response times.
The dispatcher raises are part of a package deal that reduces mandatory overtime shifts and commits the city to a sharp increase in staffing that will boost the number of fire dispatchers working at all times by 50 percent.
The pay hikes for both groups of employees will kick in incrementally during the next two years.
Pay for San Diego police officers will now rank above average in all pay categories for the first time in years, based on a city consultant’s preliminary comparison to 18 other law enforcement agencies in the state.
That comparison included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Anaheim, Sacramento and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
A similar survey in fall 2014 showed San Diego officers were at or near the bottom of the pay scale when compared to the same group of law enforcement agencies.
City and police officials say such relatively low pay has prompted many officers to transfer to other law enforcement agencies with higher pay.
The raises come with San Diego facing projected deficits of $10.1 million in budget year 2019, $34.6 million in 2020 and $19.8 million in 2021. Those projections include the police pay hikes.
Council members described the police contract as overdue.
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said boosting the number of officers will allow more proactive and community policing, two key goals of the city.
Councilman David Alvarez said San Diego must strive to keep compensation at this level in comparison to other law enforcement agencies to avoid a repeat of the ongoing staffing crisis.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a prepared statement after the council vote that the police officer raises are crucial to public safety.
“This contract is all about keeping our neighborhoods safe and secure,” he said. “Having more cops on the beat will help strengthen our community policing approach and ensure San Diegans continue to live in one of the safest big cities in the country.”
Despite officer vacancies, San Diego’s crime rate has remained relatively low for such a large city. FBI statistics released this fall show that only four of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the nation have lower rates for violent crime and property crime.
All officers would get cumulative hikes of at least 25.6 percent between July 2018 and January 2020, and veterans with more than 20 years on the job would 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.
The contract will cost the city $66.2 million over the two years it covers.
More than 95 percent of officers approved the deal in online voting in October shortly after Faulconer and the San Diego Police Officers Association labor union announced the deal.
Union vice president Jack Schaeffer said during the council hearing that the deal will stabilize the department and boost morale.
“The city is sending the right message to our experienced officers, catching the eye of laterals and recruits we want to attract and giving taxpayers value for their tax dollars,” he said. “This agreement creates the foundation for a strong, stable Police Department.”
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said in a prepared statement that the news of the pending raises is already boosting the department.
“We are already seeing positive results with the most applicants attending our recent physical abilities test in any one day than in nearly three years, and officers who have recently left inquiring about returning,” she said. “Increasing our staffing is a critically important investment in keeping San Diego a safe city.”
The raises for fire dispatchers come a a year after police dispatchers got 26.6 percent over three years to solve similar staffing problems.
Calls to 9-1-1 go directly to police dispatchers, who handle any calls related to crimes and route calls related to fires and medical emergencies to fire dispatchers.
The fire dispatcher raises are a combination of 11.6 percent in previously approved pay hikes and 12.5 percent in new increases negotiated this year.