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Study Says Added Officers Might Not Cut S.D. Crime

May 01, 1985|LANIE JONES | Times Staff Writer

If San Diego were to hire enough new police officers to reach a level of two officers for every 1,000 city residents, it would cost $47 million --and still might not reduce crime or prevent officers from being killed.

Those are the conclusions of a report to the City Council's Public Services and Safety Committee by City Manager Ray Blair in response to suggestions by some council members that the city needs two officers for every thousand residents.

Blair's analysis will be considered at the committee's May 8 meeting as part of a council and Police Department effort to make the beat cop's job safer.

But if reactions Tuesday offer any clue, next week's committee hearing will be a stormy one.

The report was first requested by City Council members in July. Last week, when the report wasn't ready as promised, committee members lambasted the city manager's office for "an apparent lack of concern" for police officers. And Tuesday, a key committee member called the final product inadequate.

"A lot of questions are still unanswered," said Councilman Ed Struiksma, himself a former police officer. "Considering that we waited 10 months for this thing, it hardly seems worth the wait."

Struiksma said he still wanted to know how best to bolster Police Department ranks and where the money would come from. The report's single proposal, "$47 million--take it or leave it," was not enough, Struiksma said.

According to the San Diego Police Officers Assn., San Diego has the highest mortality rate of any police department in the nation and the second-highest rate of officers injured from assaults. Nine police officers have been killed on duty since 1977, three of them since September.

Blair's report offers no recommendations. It notes that the department has yet to find a cause for the high death rate and has recently formed a task force to pinpoint the cause.

According to the report, San Diego police compared the department's safety with that of other departments based on such criteria as one-officer versus two-officer patrols, physical fitness, department policies and training programs.

"In each instance no obvious correlation has been made," Blair wrote. "Many cities with single-officer patrols have lower injury and death rates. Age and experience could not be identified as a factor . . . Fitness is not a factor, and the department's training program is considered progressive.

"In each area, San Diego is consistent with other agencies, and in many areas, superior to departments with lower officer injury rates."

The Police Officers Assn. has recommended that San Diego add two-officer patrols to make the job safer.

Last week, top police officials reassigned 52 officers from school safety patrols, community relations and other assignments to serve as second officers in patrol cars. The new two-officer patrols are to cover areas of the city where there is gang activity, a high incidence of assaults or where there have been frequent calls for a second or "cover" unit by officers.

When the plan starts Friday, the reassignments will double the number of two-officer patrols--from 19 to 38 units.

But if all beats are to be covered with two officers, the costs will be high, Blair's report said. A total of 71 new officers would be needed, at a cost of more than $1.7 million.

And if San Diego were to increase its police coverage from the current ratio of 1.46 officers to two officers per 1,000 residents, the additional cost would be $47 million in the first year, the report said.

To meet the higher ratio, San Diego would have to add 677 sworn officers, 225 support staff members and three new substations, Blair's report said. By contrast, the 1986 budget proposes adding only 53 sworn officers and 30.5 support staff members.

But the report questioned whether adding large numbers of officers would reduce crime.

"Adding a large number of police officers . . . does not in and of itself guarantee any reduction in the level of crime," Blair said. "However, improving the ratio will have a positive impact on the public's perception of its safety due to increased Police Department visibility. Also certain police services will be improved, most notably a reduction in response times."

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