With retirement losses expected to grow, city looks to hiring blitz 

Hundreds of new police officers will be hitting the streets over the next few years under a new proposal announced by Mayor Ed Lee and public safety officials Wednesday.

At the Police Department Academy, Lee unveiled the long-term public safety hiring plan, which also includes hiring new firefighters and EMTs over the next two years. The hiring plan, which would extend over six years, was crafted to offset what officials view as a troubling loss of police officers and firefighters to retirement.

The proposal, which is the largest funding plan for police and fire hiring in years, would allocate money for three new police academy classes and one fire academy class each year for the next two years. The Police Department has not had an academy class in the past three years. Both departments have been and will continue to be hit hard by retirements and have fallen below City Charter-mandated staffing levels.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said he expects that between 2011 and 2014 the department will lose nearly 300 veteran officers. The losses come after the discontinuation of a retirement program that allowed retirement-age officers to keep working while collecting pensions in a special account. Another 100 officers could retire before the summer of 2015, Suhr said.

 “At least this stops the bleeding,” Suhr said.

Police officers have been shifted to nights and weekends to focus on violent crime and don’t always have the time to spend on quality-of-life crimes, according to Suhr. Still, he credited San Francisco’s continued decrease in violent crime over the past few years on adequate staffing levels and community engagement.

“Community policing is what this is all about,” Suhr said. “Many other departments that have lost officers haven’t been able to do that lead police work: the engagement of youth, the bike officers, the beat officers. All that stuff that connects you, that gets you all that information, that we’ve benefited by here in San Francisco.”

The Police Department estimates the cost of three academy classes per year at between $15 million and $18 million.

For the Fire Department, the hiring proposal would help to curb costly overtime spending, according to Chief Joanne Hayes-White. She said staffing levels are at an “all-time low” and her department exceeded its $25 million overtime budget this year.

The mayor — who was joined by supervisors Carmen Chu, Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen at Wednesday’s announcement — said city officials have been cooperating more closely than in previous years. The plan is part of the mayor’s two-year budget proposal that is being unveiled today. The budget needs the approval of the Board of Supervisors.

 “We could not have done it without collaboration from everyone,” Lee said. He added that The City’s economic recovery was also a significant factor.


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