SAN DIEGO -- An agreement to boost salaries for San Diego police officers was unanimously approved by the City Council Tuesday to address continuing difficulties in retaining personnel and recruiting new employees.
According to Tim Davis, the city's lead negotiator, the new deal will provide officers a raise of 8.3 percent on July 1 next year, followed by hikes of 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2019, 7.3 percent on July 1, 2019, and 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2020.
Officers with 20 years or more on the force will receive an extra 5 percent, since retaining experience personnel is critically important, Davis said.
He said the SDPD ranks near the bottom of law enforcement agency pay in the region and the state, but the raises will put San Diego "well above the median and approaching the top."
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman called the contract "an absolute game- changer."
"Dozens of our police officers who were going to leave our police department our now staying," Zimmerman told the council. "Others that have recently left our police department are now inquiring about coming back to the San Diego Police Department. Just recently, we had more applicants take our physical abilities test in any one day than we have had in nearly three years."
Officers have been leaving the department at a rate of 12 or 13 a month for several years, with some simply retiring but many seeking better take home pay in neighboring cities or with the Sheriff's Department.
A highly touted five-year deal with the San Diego Police Officers Association failed to change matters, but a provision gave the opportunity for the two sides to reopen talks.
According to Zimmerman, the SDPD currently employs 220 fewer officers than the budgeted level, with many of those on the force being in academies or in field training.
Beyond the sheer numbers of losses in the SDPD ranks, city officials have been worried about the loss of experienced personnel to lead the younger cops. About one-third of older officers are eligible to retire over the next five years, according to Davis.
Jack Schaeffer, SDPOA vice president, said the deal sends the right message to experienced officers, prospective recruits and sworn personnel who might consider whether to move over from another agency.
"This agreement creates the foundation of a strong, stable police department by providing opportunity for the San Diego Police Department to fill vacant positions, reach staffing goals, reduce response times and provide residents with high-quality public safety services they demand and deserve," Schaeffer said.
About 95 percent of SDPD officers voted to ratify the agreement.
According to staff, the contract will add $18 million to next year's budget. With further raises, the total will rise to more than $47 million beginning in the 2020 fiscal year.
"Yes, it's going to hit the pocketbook, yes, it's going to have an increased cost, yes, it's absolutely 100 percent needed and we have to start thinking about how to make this work," said Councilman Chris Cate, who chairs the panel's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.
Councilman Scott Sherman said the added costs were about priorities that could lead to tough decisions down the road. City finances are projected to be tight over the next few fiscal years, according to staff estimates that will be presented to the council next week.
On a related item, the council also granted a 12.5 percent raise to dispatchers for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. Davis said the fire communications center has been short-staffed, with unscheduled overtime often required of dispatchers.
The raise will be provided in three stages over the next two years, he said.