Five Santa Barbara police officers and two supervisors are being transferred from popular ancillary assignments, such as restorative policing, in order to increase the numbers on patrol duty, the department’s core function. The announcement came late last week, according to Sgt. Eric Beecher, head of the Police Officers Association, and will take effect mid-October.
The union and City Hall are currently negotiating a new contract, and Beecher blamed the staffing shortages on what he termed the below-average compensation compared to comparable cities. Recruitment and retention are issues for police departments everywhere, particularly during relatively flush economic times and especially so given the negative scrutiny many departments are experiencing over issues of force and ethnic profiling.
City Hall has budgeted for a department of 141, but it currently hovers at 136. Of those, 11 are new recruits either still in the academy or fresh out. At least another 10 are out on injury leave, another five to seven are expected to retire at year’s end, and another two are expected to transfer elsewhere. Typically, the department maintains a patrol staff of 58-60 officers, Beecher stated; currently, he claimed, it’s down to 44 or 45.
Department spokesperson Anthony Wagner declined to comment on such figures, citing tactical considerations, but he confirmed that officers were being reassigned to buttress patrol staffing. Wagner noted that a large wave of officers — those hired in the late ’80s and early ’90s — are now hitting retirement age. More than 60 percent of the department, he added, is staffed by officers hired in the past five years.
Wagner acknowledged the restorative policing detail, which focuses on connecting homeless people with services or family members, will take a hit, but he stressed it will still retain one officer, as opposed to two, and one supervisor. Others in City Hall dismissed Beecher’s contention that Santa Barbara’s compensation levels have sunk below average as a bargaining table ploy, questioning how the department could entice 11 new recruits if the pay were so bad.