San Diego Business Journal

Having spent a lifetime in law enforcement — as a beat cop, San Diego police chief and sheriff — I know who to trust when it comes to protecting our families from crime.

With the election this November, San Diegans will be making a decision that will determine the kind of city we live in. It’s never been more important than now to know who you can trust on matters of public safety.

For decades, the San Diego Police Department has been a national model of innovation and efficiency. We were leaders in the movement that brought about community-oriented policing. We have been able to keep our crime rates low and reduce our priority-call emergency response times, despite having far fewer officers per capita, and far less resources than other major cities.

But without the reforms and revenues that will result from Proposition D, the future of San Diego — and the safety of its citizens — looks bleak.

San Diego faces a $72 million deficit next year in its General Fund, the part of the budget that pays for essential public services like police, fire, parks and libraries. Police and fire services alone account for half of all General Fund spending.

Potential Reductions in City Services

If the City Council has to cut the budget by $72 million, it’s almost certain that public safety will take a serious hit.

For years, Mayor Jerry Sanders, himself a former police chief, and the City Council shielded public safety departments from budget cuts. They did this by making deeper reductions elsewhere, especially in parks and recreation programs and library hours. Overall, more than 1,400 city jobs were eliminated.

But as the recession continued to erode revenues, that wasn’t enough.

To close a $179 million deficit last year, the city had to eliminate 200 Police Department positions, including personnel who assist in investigations, support our detectives and enforce neighborhood codes.

In that same budget, the City Council began the “rolling brownouts” at fire stations that idle eight engines a day and increase 911 response times. It also reduced lifeguard patrols, leaving one popular beach without anyone to protect swimmers.

Those were difficult decisions, but they will pale in comparison to the ones the City Council will have to make if Proposition D fails.

Cuts Needed to Balance Budget

The mayor has made it clear that cuts in public safety will be necessary to balance the budget. As preparation for next year’s budget, the police chief has been asked to propose $15.8 million in additional cuts. The fire chief has been asked to propose $7.2 million in additional cuts.

Yet opponents of Proposition D want you to think these threats to public safety are not real.

The spokeswoman for the No on D campaign last month advocated that the city eliminate its Lifeguard Services altogether, claiming that people who swim in the ocean should be prepared to pay the price for their risky behavior.

The leading opponent of Proposition D says it is “ludicrous” to think that the City Council would cut police, fire or lifeguards.

Apparently, this politically ambitious councilman hopes you will forget that last year, the City Council did exactly that.

Mayor Sanders, by contrast, has been responsibly reducing and reforming the city budget for five years. And he says that deep cuts in public safety are inevitable if Proposition D fails.

The public will have to decide who it believes.

I trust Mayor Sanders. You should, too.

Bill Kolender retired as county sheriff last year after more than 50 years in law enforcement, including 13 years as San Diego’s chief of police.