Police chief concerned, frustrated by prospect of more budget cuts

By Ken Fields

City News Service

A visibly frustrated Police Chief William Lansdowne on Wednesday presented a bleak portrait of the city's public-safety prospects in the aftermath of cuts he will soon have to make in his already bare-bones department in the absence of new revenue.

As directed by Jay Goldstone, the city's chief operating officer, Lansdowne detailed his proposals for slashing $15.9 million from the department's budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year in the event that new municipal income fails to fill the deepening holes in the budget.

The only immediate prospect for such a funding influx is Proposition D, a half-cent sales tax increase that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Noting that he was prohibited by law from making statements that could be construed as campaigning, Lansdowne urged the public to back what he vaguely referred to as Mayor Jerry Sanders' "plan" to address the city's projected deficit of $72 million in the coming year.

Sanders is strongly advocating passage of the five-year sales tax, which would only go into effect after 10 measures, including pension system changes, are implemented.

Lansdowne warned that the prospect of further reductions in his department — most notably the loss of 162 sworn officers — is "threatening the very lifeline of safety in the city of San Diego."

"And that public safety is (in danger of) being sacrificed as we speak," he said during a mid-afternoon briefing at downtown San Diego Police Department headquarters.

Making his points forcefully and showing flashes of anger, Lansdowne — who said he'd been asked by Sanders to "speak with my heart" — openly showed his exasperation over having to further pare down his fiscally struggling department.

"I've cut everywhere I can cut," Lansdowne said. "There's nowhere else to cut."

Opponents to Proposition D, including City Councilman Carl DeMaio, accuse Sanders and other proponents of trying to frighten the public into voting for the tax increase by threatening public safety cuts that would not be allowed to happen anyway.

Those fighting the proposed tax increase argue that it would be an egregious burden on a local economy already beleaguered by a deep recession.

"Proposition D adds a half-a-billion-dollar tax increase to the challenges already faced by San Diego's working families and small businesses," DeMaio said.

"That's why such an expansive business coalition has formed to oppose this misguided proposition, (which) not only hurts our economy but sets back reform in city government."

Lansdowne emphatically responded to opponents' "scare tactics" charges during the news conference.

"I'm the chief of police in San Diego, and I am the expert," he said, his voice rising. "And I'm here to tell you that if I have to cut 15.9 million dollars out of this budget, it's going to affect public safety."

Lansdowne also addressed the position of DeMaio and other Proposition D opponents that the City Council can find ways to save enough money to close budgetary shortfalls without adversely affecting public safety.

"I've been made promises to for the last 43 years, and I've learned to take those with a grain of salt," Lansdowne said. "I didn't think they would cut us last year, when they cut those 133 police officers. But they did it."

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