A new plan for training motivated San Francisco high school students to become The City’s next generation of police officers, firefighters and nurses could be a big win-win. We already know many public safety vacancies will be opening up soon.
Right now, 358 San Francisco police officers could retire with maximum benefits, and 661 will be eligible within five years. Firefighters now eligible for maximum retirement benefits total 168, with 348 who could do it within five years.
These vital jobs must be kept filled — preferably with recruits who have strong connections to The City and would actually live in San Francisco during their careers. Community policing, which has shown early success, is particularly dependent on officers with an in-depth understanding of their neighborhood beats.
Today, only one-fourth of San Francisco’s 2,308 police officers and barely one-third of the 1,408 firefighters live in The City. The majority of our emergency first responders are scattered from Sonoma to Santa Cruz. More San Francisco police officers actually live on the Peninsula (30 percent) than in The City.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has introduced legislation to establish “public service academy” classes in the school district. The hope is to improve the dismal public safety job recruitment rate among San Francisco residents — less than 20 percent for police. The San Francisco Unified School District has long had successful programs preparing students for private sector jobs.
To be available for the 2011-12 school year, the public safety career program needs to go to the Board of Supervisors by June 30. The Police, Sheriff’s, Fire and Health departments must coordinate plans with the mayor’s work force development director and SFUSD. Requirements include paid internships, open enrollment, graduation credits and tuition assistance for post-secondary training.
Despite the harsh deficits looming over City Hall and SFUSD, backers say this is the right time to pass such a program because so many responder jobs will open up. Board of Education President Jane Kim said the training will “ensure that there are local jobs available for our students when they graduate.”
The Examiner is optimistic about the potential of “public service academies” while also skeptical about its goal of hiring more police and firefighters living in The City. Even recruits who grew up in San Francisco will be strongly tempted to move to the suburbs once they have comparatively well-paid jobs and want more house for their families.
However, the related goals of filling impending police/fire retirement vacancies and helping city high school graduates get good careers are valuable enough to make the program worth trying. Of course, in tight-budget times like this, any final decision depends on how much money the training would cost and where that money would come from.