Half of San Diego cops near retirement

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SAN DIEGO — Sixteen percent of San Diego police officers are eligible to retire right now, and more than half will reach retirement eligibility in four years, the vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association said Wednesday.

San Diego Police DepartmentThe comments by the association’s Jeff Jordan came during a report — delivered to the City Council’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee — on the department’s struggle to recruit and retain officers.

Jordan said those now eligible and the 919 cops soon to qualify for retirement won’t all leave the force immediately, but it’s reasonable to expect most of them will depart within the next nine years.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf called the numbers “scary.”

The attrition that has already hit the department would cause “heads to roll” in a private company, Jordan said.

He said that of the 888 officers hired by the SDPD since July 2005, 29 percent have already left.

The SDPD has been trying to rebuild its ranks in what Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman told committee members is a “very competitive” hiring environment.

The San Diego force recently lost 17 recruits to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department or the police departments of surrounding cities, Zimmerman said. Another 10 left for law enforcement agencies elsewhere in Southern California, she said.

Most of the departures of recruits and seasoned officers were for “economic decisions for their family,” she said.

“It wasn’t necessarily for salary, what they kept telling us it was for take-home pay,” Zimmerman said. “Literally, they could change a uniform — didn’t necessarily have to sell their house to go to another local agency — just change their uniform, and in some cases they’re making $1,100 more a month.”

Jordan said the police union and department have done all they can to address the issue.

“It really falls back in the council’s hands to restore those kinds of services, to figure out how we’re going to stop this mass attrition rate, because when you look at this, we know what’s coming,” Jordan said. “The question is, what are we going to do to stop this together?”

According to Zimmerman, the department had 1,841 sworn officers as of April 1, nearly 130 less than budgeted. Almost 60 of the listed officers are in the recruit academy, while some of the others are injured or deployed with the military, she said.

Despite recent efforts to boost the size of the force, the SDPD has had a net gain of just nine officers since last July, she said.

—– Story by City News Service reporter James R. Riffel

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