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San Diego is working to address police understaffing, La Jolla Town Council is told

San Diego police close part of La Jolla Boulevard in La Jolla on June 11 after a fatal traffic collision.
San Diego police close part of La Jolla Boulevard in La Jolla on June 11 after a fatal traffic collision.
(Courtesy of James Rudolph)

The Town Council also seats a new executive committee, including new President Jerri Hunt.

City and police officials say they are taking various steps to address staffing shortages in the San Diego Police Department.

Police Lt. Rick Aguilar told the La Jolla Town Council during its July 14 meeting that staffing levels are low in the department’s Northern Division, which includes La Jolla. On July 14, he said, the division’s second watch shift was down four officers and its overnight shift was down six officers.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ended June 30, more than 230 San Diego police officers left the department — a 52 percent increase compared with the previous year — for a variety of reasons, including the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees, staffing shortages that require overtime or constrain time off, a continuing call for changes to police practices, and jobs at other departments that offer higher pay and better retirement packages.

In addition, as many as 20 police officers were among dozens of city employees who recently received advance notices that they could be fired for failing to comply with a requirement for weekly coronavirus testing instead of getting vaccinated.

“We still have officers working overtime on the burglary series” involving a South American crime ring, Aguilar said. The police detail includes detectives and officers.

Police have attributed at least 19 residential burglaries in La Jolla over the past year to the crime ring, many of them in the Muirlands neighborhood.

To address the understaffing, Aguilar said, he often has to pull beach team officers for calls in other areas, meaning the officers “aren’t able to get onto the beach as much as I would like them to.”

The officers are “getting out there as much as possible,” he added.

Officers are still getting to emergencies like shootings in minutes, but response times to all other types of calls have far surpassed Police Department benchmarks.

Staffing levels are so low that starting Monday, July 18, juvenile services officers and community relations officers — including the Northern Division’s Jessica Thrift — will be recalled to patrol “so we have coverage,” Aguilar said.

He apologized in advance for any lack of response to emails caused by Thrift’s absence.

The city also is taking steps to address the shortage through pay increases for police officers, lifeguards and firefighters, according to City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla.

LaCava said the city is “trying to catch up and make our pay competitive with other agencies.”

A new labor deal will result in a 10 percent pay raise for police officers over the next 13 months, according to Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association. He told ABC-TV 10 last month that the agreement will get officers’ pay close to that of other agencies.

Deals announced in June 2021 included pay raises of 3.2 percent for police officers and 2.5 percent or more for firefighters. An agreement announced in August included a 2.5 percent pay hike for lifeguards.

LaCava said the city also will try to incentivize lateral transfers and step up recruiting for the Police Department.

A council committee approved a lease agreement July 14 for a former San Diego Chargers training facility on Murphy Canyon Road in San Diego that is being used by the Police Department, with a portion of it earmarked for conversion to a police child care facility, LaCava said. The child care program will run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to cover the first and second police shifts and will be available on an as-needed basis during overnight shifts, LaCava said.

New Town Council executive committee

Jerri Hunt addresses the La Jolla Town Council as its new president July 14 as previous president James Rudolph listens.
Jerri Hunt addresses the La Jolla Town Council as its new president July 14 as previous president James Rudolph listens.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

LaCava swore in the Town Council’s new executive committee for a one-year term. Jerri Hunt is now the president, Rick Dagon is vice president, Brooke Baginski is secretary, Chuck Merriman is treasurer and Ron Jones is chief technology officer.

James Rudolph, the immediate past president, remains part of the executive committee.

LaCava presented Rudolph with a commendation from the District 1 office “as a small token of appreciation … for [Rudolph’s] leadership” in La Jolla.

Hunt said she’s “honored that you have put your faith in me to support our endeavors moving forward.”

She said the Town Council “provides a critical voice for La Jolla. … We have the opportunity to make a real contribution.”

“My mission as president is purely to help us do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons with integrity and transparency,” Hunt said. “I want us to strive to always have both sides represented in our efforts to advocate for our community. Healthy professional debate, in compliance with our procedures, will be encouraged.

“If we have each other, we are going to build relationships that will last a lifetime.”

She identified the organization’s challenges as increasing its voice and working toward La Jolla becoming an independent city.

The Town Council held a community forum on the cityhood issue May 12, reviving discussions from years earlier.

A group of La Jollans has been meeting to explore the process, according to local architect Trace Wilson, who said: “We can do much better for the region of San Diego if we’re on our own. We want to make the coastline and our Village the best it can be.”

Town Council government liaison Cody Petterson said at the forum that the primary challenge to secession is the “dual majority vote rule,” which means a majority of La Jollans, and then a majority in the rest of San Diego, would have to approve the detachment.

In addition, if analyses by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission find there will be a negative fiscal impact, La Jolla would have to make mitigation payments to San Diego. A 2005 study estimated La Jolla would owe $4.6 million annually in such payments.

LAFCO Executive Officer Keene Simonds estimated the cityhood process, if successful, would take two to four years.

In an online poll by the La Jolla Light, 87 percent of the 312 respondents answered yes to the question “Should La Jolla try to become an independent city?”

Next meeting: The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, online and at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. To learn more, visit lajollatowncouncil.org.

— La Jolla Light Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.

Updates

12:10 p.m. July 17, 2022: This article was updated to include information on a new labor deal with police officers.