With Santa Barbara City Hall projecting a balanced budget for the first time in five years, police brass and union leaders showed up at City Council Chambers Monday evening to pressure councilmembers to make up for lost positions and increase officers’ pay by about 10 percent. Police union chief Mike McGrew claimed the number of officers dropped from 151 in 2001 to 126 at present, with at least five facing imminent retirement. As a result, officers can’t respond to service calls as fast as they once did, he said. He told councilmembers City Hall needed to “stop the bleeding.” SBPD spokespeople played tapes of 911 calls that dispatchers received when an out-of-town motorist sought refuge at La Cumbre Plaza from an enraged driver ramming his car and hurling bricks at him. It took 12 minutes for the first officer to respond to the scene. One councilmember noted that the incident in question occurred at the same time San Marcos High School students were marching for immigrants’ rights — with a police escort.
One of the more striking statistics released by Chief Cam Sanchez was the high cost of responding to transient-related complaints. According to Sanchez, 10.7 percent of watch commanders’ and patrol staff’s work time between February and April was devoted to transient-related offenses. According to police statistics, just 40 transient individuals were responsible for 677 offenses during that time. If those 40 could be targeted for enforcement and intervention, Sanchez estimated the department could save $563,787. While acknowledging that the department faces serious turnover and retention issues, some city administrators took exception to the numbers the police used, describing them as “comparing apples to pomegranates.” City Administrator Jim Armstrong denied there were 151 officers on duty in 2001; he insisted 151 were simply budgeted. There are currently 141 budgeted, 15 more than in uniform.