Gavin Newsom has promised to hire 250 new police officers this year. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums says he'll add at least 70. Richmond is trying to hire 45 more officers. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget calls for 120 more California Highway Patrol officers. East Palo Alto is hiring. San Jose is hiring.
With so many Bay Area police departments in need of new blood, can Newsom and other Bay Area mayors keep their promises to boost staffing? Lieutenant Mark Gagan of the Richmond PD says the situation is stark: "We're actively in competition with San Francisco, with Oakland. ... We're all drawing from the same pool of candidates."
And it isn't a very large pool. Apparently, young people these days aren't interested in careers in fields where dying of unnatural causes is an occupational hazard (just ask military recruiters). "They've got 11,000 vacancies for police officers in the state of California, and nobody wants to be cops," says Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
When local cities do find good candidates, those recruits have learned to think of themselves as free agents who can be every bit as demanding as Barry Bonds. And they're entitled to. "I've got story after story of 22-year-olds telling police captains, 'You need to make me your best offer,' and they get it," says Bill Naber of the public safety research and consulting company Naber Technical Enterprises.
Unless the Iraq war ends any time soon, the police staff shortage is likely to continue, so many cities are developing aggressive strategies. Oakland is targeting community college graduates and promising to put them on a fast track through the academy. Delagnes says he particularly admires the way Oakland recruiters can tell candidates in mere weeks if they're eligible; in San Francisco, the process can take six months, in which time another municipality (like Oakland) might have snapped them up.
Despite Newsom's promises to beef up the police force, San Francisco doesn't seem to have a plan like Oakland's. A ballot measure, Prop. B, would allow officers to stay on longer instead of retiring. But when it comes to bringing in new faces, Delagnes says San Francisco still lags behind others: "Other cities have figured it out and are recruiting aggressively. We're still figuring it out."
Worse for San Francisco, he adds, is that it's perceived as an anti-police city, and qualified candidates who have a choice often don't want to come here.
David Miree, a Newsom spokesman, says he's unaware of any strategies the mayor has in mind for meeting his recruitment goals, "but I'm sure we'll get back to you with details on that."
We're expecting the war to end first.