Police chief concerned, frustrated by prospect of more budget cuts
By Ken Fields
City News ServiceA 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.”
Lansdowne repeatedly sought to drive home the point that San Diegans will certainly see significant downgrades in police protection should the proposed cost-saving reductions go into effect.
“These cuts are real if we don’t find a solution,” Lansdowne said.
In addition to closing two stations, the department, which had to let go of scores of sworn personnel last year, would likely have to shift gang, homicide and narcotics detectives into patrol duties, along with homeless outreach and juvenile services officers, police officials told reporters.
“That would include a captain, two lieutenants, 20 sergeants and 30 detectives,” Lansdowne said.
The number of layoffs would equal 10 percent of the department’s patrol operations, according to Assistant Chief Boyd Long.
“I can’t tell you how critical this is to the police department,” Long said.
Dispatch personnel also would have to be released, according to Lansdowne, who said the department “dropped” an estimated 100,000 emergency calls last year due to a previous staff downsizing.
In a statement released in the late afternoon, the leadership of the San Diego Police Officers Association, the union representing the department’s officers, said it was “extremely concerned for the future of public safety in San Diego if the proposed cuts announced today by Chief Lansdowne come to fruition.”
“For a department that is currently staffed at 1993 levels, bringing the budgeted strength down by an additional 162 sworn positions will be detrimental to investigations and the safety of both citizens and officers,” the union statement said.
Union President Brian Marvel said Lansdowne “was given a difficult task of cutting nearly $16 million from a department that has already been cut to the bone.”
“Any San Diego business, resident or visitor who believes that these cuts will not affect them is kidding themselves,” Marvel said. “You cannot close two stations and cut nearly 10 percent of our (budget) without knowing that public safety will be compromised.”
On Tuesday, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar outlined, as requested by City Hall, $7.2 million in proposed cuts to his department. The budget reductions could result in the sidelining of additional fire engines and laying off firefighters in the upcoming fiscal year.
Mainar’s recommendations include eliminating staffing for a seasonal firefighting helicopter, instituting service-reduction “brownouts” for five additional engine companies, laying off up to 60 firefighters and cutting some lifeguard protection.
“In considering all that has been done so far, and our remaining resources, I have concluded that the only realistic way to meet the FY 2012 reduction target is to make further reductions in our fire and lifeguard operations divisions,” Mainar stated.
This fiscal year, the city instituted its much-maligned fire-service “brownout” program, a last-ditch measure that idled eight engine companies on a rotating basis in an effort to save about $11.5 million.