SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Police Department reported Wednesday that nearly 100 new police officers have joined the force so far this year, in spite of a hiring pool that’s limited due to low unemployment and other factors.
In an informational update to the San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on its recruiting and retention practices, the SDPD revealed that it has hired 94 new officers since the start of the year, half of whom are people of color and other minorities and 15% of whom are women.
Both figures are higher than their respective national averages, according to the police department. Sandra Albrektsen, SDPD’s assistant chief of recruiting and retention, said most law enforcement agencies top out with around 11% of their officers being women. Minority police officers constitute roughly one quarter of law enforcement agencies’ personnel, on average.
“We’re a very open, accepting and loving community and women feel comfortable to be here,” Albrektsen said of the SDPD’s rate of recruiting women. “I have been here for 37 years, all within the same department, and I always remember feeling part of a team and that is something that we are able to use to our advantage in marketing and hiring.”
The hiring effort is the result of a May 2018 report from the city’s independent budget analyst, which found that the department was understaffed in April 2018 by nearly 250 officers. At that time, 1,797 positions within the department were filled, 243 fewer than the 2,040 positions funded in the city budget.
The staffing shortage was primarily due to a sharp decline in applications. From 2013 to last year, the number of applications filed with the department fell from roughly 2,500 annually to around 1,500. Consequently, the department paid officers more overtime and response times grew.
Since then, the SDPD has made a concerted effort to hire new officers and retain current ones, including streamlining the recruiting and hiring process and launching a video- and advertisement-based marketing campaign in February to pull in recruits. The council approved a $350,000 contract with Loma Media in June 2018.
The department has also received free advertising on social media, particularly in the form of its participation in a video with YouTube vlogger Michelle Khare, who has nearly 1.5 million subscribers on the video sharing platform. Khare spent three days embedded with the department and marched with SDPD officers during the city’s July 13 Pride march.
“We’re hopeful once this gets through our review process and our chiefs review it, hopefully this video comes out next month and it’ll be the highest rated video that we’ll have seen within the San Diego Police Department,” said Lt. Steve Waldheim, SDPD’s acting captain for recruitment and retention.
Department officials argue the advertising blitz has been a success so far. At its latest academy, the department had 63 recruits, the most in 25 years according to Waldheim.
The department’s exit interview data also showed a decrease in the average number of its officers who have left for other law enforcement agencies, from three per month in 2018 to two per month this year. The average number of officers who have left the department in general was 14 per month in previous fiscal years and fell to 13 this year.
Recruiters have targeted local and out-of state events as well as community centers, high schools and colleges around the county to attract potential officers. The department also offers a junior police academy and cadet program that are designed to funnel local young adults toward becoming police officers.
“I’ve been on this committee now, I think this is my fourth or fifth year, and I will say by far this is the best presentation we’ve had on recruitment and retention,” said City Councilman Chris Cate. “It was very detailed, a lot of data points and definitely appreciate (SDPD’s) work going into this.”