The police department had been doing more with less for so long the citizens eventually came to take it for granted. Along with it came a highly professional, corruption free police department.
Perhaps a poor economy was the reason there wasn't more of a demand for honesty and objectivity from the media when the reporters and editorial writers began their barrage of exaggerated reports insinuating EVERY member of the police department, for that matter, every city employee, made a pension of more than $100,000 per year.
Terms such as “Gold Plated Pensions” and “Cadillac Benefits” suddenly became all the buzz words. Sensationalism sells. Never mind that gold plating is the cheapest way to dress up low grade jewelry. Never mind that Cadillac is a mediocre product made by a recently bankrupt car company. To the general public the phrases stuck and the politicians ran with them.
Those within the police department knew the truth. The 100k pension was the exception not the rule. The cops just didn't have the power of the media to repudiate it. Plus, envy is a powerful emotion and in a bad economy few truly want to hear the truth.
It is true, the city was hurting financially. So, to balance the budget, the city asked the cops to contribute more of their pay towards their retirements. The politicians said it was only fair and the cops should be thankful they have jobs. The economy was hurting and there would be droves of people lined up to do their jobs if the cops working didn’t want them. Apparently considerations towards the number of police applicants lost during backgrounds, psychological or physical testing never was considered.
The immediate consequence was a smaller paycheck. Many officers left. Cops have highly marketable skills and other agencies were paying more both in dollars and respect. The new departments were eager to welcome the big city experience the soon to be ex police department gave them.
Many of those who stayed found themselves in a quandary of not being able to afford to live in the high priced city they were sworn to protect. That created a loyalty issue to both the community they serve and the department that employs them. Soon more officers left. In all 400 plus officers turned in their badges. But the citizens didn't notice. Or, if they did, they didn't care.
The next nail in the coffin came when the city decided it needed to put forth a ballot measure to eliminate pensions for all new hires. 401k was the way to go. After all, that’s what “everyone gets in the private sector.” Apparently no one asked which private sector. McDonald’s compensates its employees differently than Google.
Never mind more that more than 25% of all private companies still offer a defined benefit pension. Never mind even more private companies offer commissions, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing or other financial perks. No one mentioned the police department doesn’t offer any of those things. The measure passed overwhelmingly.
Now, even more officers are leaving. Crime is skyrocketing. If the citizens truly knew how few cops were on the streets they would probably sleep with one eye open and a pistol at their side. Instead, they call 9-11 and angrily demand someone immediately respond to their loud party calls because they “pay their salaries.”
Task forces have been dissolved. Investigative slots have been left unfilled. Many property crimes that were once aggressively investigated are now not even being looked at. The focus of the department had to be patrol – responding to felony crimes in progress.
Finally, citizens are starting to take notice but it may be a little too little and a little too late. Violent crime is way up and the citizenry wants to know why the cops aren’t doing anything. After all, they pay their salaries. Apparently they missed the part about electing the very same people who’ve been passively aggressively torpedoing the cops for years. Apparently the concept of cause and effect is no longer an instinctive emotion.
It's not Chief Lansdowne's fault. His stewardship of the proud department was fine. The demise began after he left. The department I am speaking of is not the San Diego Police Department but rather our comrades in blue 450 miles to the north - the San Jose Police Department. This once great law enforcement agency is now on life support and considering requesting the California Highway Patrol to step in and help patrol their streets. Things have gotten that bad. Will it improve? At this point no one knows. The larger question is given all of the parallels one has to ask, could their future be ours? It depends on how wise our elected officials are.
EUGLOGIES FOR COPS
The one hundred forty one year old Camden New Jersey Police Department is no more. Last year layoffs left 50% of the sworn members out of work. Then, in August 2012, came official word that the department was being disbanded.
It’s not that they aren’t needed. Camden is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. The death knell came from, among other things, a hostile governor/legislature and a municipal population that has more tax takers than taxpayers. A non union, experimental county wide policing program, will take its place. How it will all work out remains to be seen. In the meantime, RIP to the CPD.
Moving west, to the region of the country we call home, we’ve long know that per capita the police department is the lowest staffed major city law enforcement agency in the United States. For so long citizens enjoyed a low crime rate and a high standard of living.