SAN DIEGO — San Diego's City Council meeting became heated Wednesday night as members discussed whether or not to reduce its police force.
The line item had the council in an intense discussion over the possible action on reducing the force from six to four officers, decreasing overtime from $50,000 to $25,000 and putting that money toward street repairs.
Councilman Jose "Gino" Martinez made a motion to decrease the department to four officers and to table the discussion on overtime until the council review the matter.
Councilman Margarito Maldonado immediately opened the item for discussion asking the council, "How can we justify cutting (six) positions completely, if there's no budgetary issues at this point?"
"Always done with four officers in the past. You have three different law enforcement entities in the City of San Diego which are willing to go ahead and help out the city like they always had," said Mayor Sally Lichtenberger.
Those entities are Department of Public Safety, Duval and the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office. However, San Diego Police Chief Rogelio Rodriguez reminded them that those entities still have their own areas and incidents to cover. Those entities are there to assist each other, but if something happens in their area they must respond leaving San Diego citizens unprotected.
Maldonado reminded the city council of the homicide and fatal structure fire that occurred in January.
San Diego Fire Chief Juan Soliz told the council they are struggling to keep and recruit firefighters and only had three firefighters to handle that call. The department is a volunteer department and the firefighters have primary jobs.
Maldonado recalled the events leading up to the city's first homicide of the year and how the victim had been kidnapped and how the officer had to stop to write his report in order to get a warrant for the alleged suspect. Days later, for whatever reason he was let out of jail, and allegedly murdered the victim.
"What more do you all want? That's staring you in the face. That's saying we need our police officers to be (fully staffed) like we've been doing for the last two years," Maldonado said. "This started back in November (2018) with the new election where these positions were cut or (frozen) as they said. Now you're wanting to cut and do away."
The council heard from Issabelle Garcia, a San Diego resident, at the start of the meeting. She pled the council not to cut the positions and stated that the citizens need the police department to patrol the streets and do their job.
"I want you to explain it to citizens like Mrs. Garcia who came and pled with you all...We are still here looking at these people in the face and telling them that we do not need (an officer) and that we can hold the city with four officers; I beg to differ," Maldonado stated. "I beg to differ and I make a motion that we do not follow through with this and where we actually fill the positions that are needed for the citizens of San Diego. I will not take action on this, (something) that will jeopardize lives or the health and safe-being of the citizens of San Diego in a personal vendetta that has been set in November, in the election. That is my opinion. That is what I am seeing, that is what the people are seeing."
Councilman Ricky Munoz is in favor of fixing the streets, but he agrees with Maldonado "at what cost."
"We cut two officers in November to save money. We have paid more in overtime in three months with those two officers gone, making up with four officers that we have right now," Munoz stated. "It's not showing that losing officers or cutting officers is going to save us money, so it doesn't make sense."
Currently, the four officers including Chief Rodriguez are on 12- hour shifts; one officer in the morning and one officer in the evening with no days off and no vacations. Chief Rodriguez is also the investigating officer and he has expressed that he cannot do follow-ups or investigations because he has to be on patrol.
In 2018, the San Diego Police Department officers responded to a total of 1,218 calls. With only four officers, that's about 300 calls per officer.
"If we had six officers, yes, it would be possible to have two people at night, at least four or five days out of the week...," he stated. "My responsibility is to the city, I believe we do need our six officers so we can protect the city. Right now, I'm not allowed..."
Chief Rodriguez expressed to the council that he and his officers have done work off the clock so they don't go over on overtime for fear they may go over budget and be cut another position.
"I have an issue with being cut. I do. I've just sat here and let it go, but I can't any more. I'm burned out, my guys are burned out," Chief Rodriguez said.
Both Maldonado and Munoz stated that they can not "jeopardize the citizens" of San Diego just to fix the streets.
In a three to two vote, the motion to reduce the force from six officers to three officers, decrease overtime and use the money to funded the street repairs did not pass.