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.