Commentary: Don’t go backward with public safety

Oceanside citizens are fortunate when it comes to their police force. 

Our city is home to one of the best trained, professional, and most effective law enforcement agencies within the county. Our department works to hire the best, and rarely do they fall short in pursuit of that goal.

Unfortunately, it’s one thing to have high hiring standards — it’s far more difficult to be able to consistently meet them.

There are countless police officers and would-be police officers throughout our county who want to work for the department that places the highest value on their training, ability, and experience.

For most of those men and women, they need to know they’ll be compensated in a way that allows them to provide for their families both now and over the long-term.

Our police department and past city leaders understood this, and they’ve taken strong strides to ensure our police officers are some of the best paid in the county. After all, you get what you pay for.

As tax advocate Richard Rider put it, “It’s a supply-demand problem. Unlike most government jobs, the ratio is the opposite of what we normally find.

It’s hard to get and keep qualified applicants. That’s why the police officers’ pension is different than the fire department’s pension and all the others. If supply and demand justifies a pay increase, I don’t have a problem with that.”

With these facts in mind, it’s important that our city not take a step backward by taking our quality police force for granted by acting pennywise and pound-foolish.

The last time Oceanside felt it needed to reduce officer pay the results weren’t pretty. As a consequence of a contract signed in the early 2000s that failed to provide Oceanside police with competitive compensation, officers began to flee Oceanside at a high rate.

During 2003/04, 20 officers left the department: eight went to Riverside Sheriffs Department, six went to the District Attorney’s office, and six to the Carlsbad Police Department.

Right now, the department is working to fill eight positions; however, retirements over the coming year will raise the projected number of open slots to 19. If we want to ensure those positions are filled, we’ll need a strong incentive to lure officers to Oceanside.

It’s easy to be hesitant to become ensnared in the argument that cutting officer compensation is a benefit to taxpayers. However, the facts say otherwise. It costs approximately $190,000 to recruit, evaluate, and train a police officer. If that officer leaves at the first opportunity for greener pastures, the taxpayers don’t get that money back. When those 20 officers fled in the mid-2000s, they had to be replaced by academy recruits — at great cost to taxpayers.

Conversely, our current compensation structure draws in officers from other parts of the region. These officers are already trained and require little funding to get them up to speed on our city’s department. For example, the Oceanside Police Department was fortunate enough to recruit a number of officers from the Stockton Police Department.

As a result, our department filled a need, but didn’t have to pay a large up-front training cost to do so. Had our compensation been lower, who knows which agency would have scooped up those officers?

Now more than ever, the current public safety environment in our state and city demands a strong police force. Oceanside’s gang problem continues to plague our community and requires a strong law enforcement presence. We currently have more than 300 sex offenders living in our city.

And it’s only going to get worse: as a result of the state’s realignment scheme, more than 800 criminals have been released early into San Diego County. Even more are slated to arrive as Governor Brown has been ordered to cut the prison population.

Our department’s capabilities are strong at the moment—our detectives have solved 18 of the last 18 homicides, for instance — but strength today doesn’t mean strength tomorrow.

As more dangerous individuals enter our community, we can’t afford a second-rate police force. The best policy — from a public safety and financial perspective — is to continue the policy of signaling that our department is the most desirable in the county.

Dan Sullivan has been an Oceanside Police Officer for 20 years, including 17 years as a sworn officer and three as a reserve officer. He currently serves as the President of the Oceanside Police Officers Association.



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