San Antonio is short 200 police officers, despite offering hiring bonuses and boosting entry-level pay past $40,000 to bolster its thin blue line.
Reasons for the shortage are unclear, as San Antonio’s finest have the second-highest police compensation packages in Texas, right behind big-spending Austin.
Rookies in the newest cadet class earn an average of more than $55,000 after completing a 14-week training course. Twenty-year veterans make $124,668 a year, including benefits.
Deadlocked in contract talks with the Police Officers Association, city officials maintain that San Antonio “remains one of the safest big cities in America.”
The 2,400-officer force has grown since 2006, when City Manager Sheryl Sculley added 500 police and firefighters while trimming civilian staff by 1,200.
The city is offering police a new contract guaranteeing a 16 percent increase in compensation over four years.
The POA wants more, and put up a giant freeway billboard blaring: “Is Your Family At Risk?”
“What happens when you don’t have very many officers out there to handle the calls? It’s going to take longer for them to get to your house,” said POA President Mike Helle.
“Emergency response times, which are measured from the time a dispatcher answers a 911 call to the time when an officer arrives on the scene, have declined each of the past four years, despite 2-3 percent annual growth in calls for service,” said city spokesman Jeff Coyle.
Helle said contentious contract negotiations, peppered by lawsuits, is scaring off prospective hires.
“It’s to the point where people are just sick and tired of it. They’re not going to work someplace they feel they’re not respected,” he told KABB News.
Ray Wilkinson, a local business owner and tea partyer, said, “I think the police union is on the money with this one.”
“We got broken into again last night. We have lost $25,000 in stolen equipment this year. Two weeks ago, our mail was stolen out of the mailbox and checks were tried to be cashed,” he said Thursday.
“I do not see how the city can say crime is down when everywhere I look I see more.”
With 16 police officers per 10,000 population, San Antonio has among the lowest staffing ratios among large U.S. cities
On Wednesday, city officials said 43 cadets recently graduated or are in the Police Academy, “and nearly 100 other SAPD applicants are at various stages in the process.”
SAPD reported it had 664 applicants in the past six months, and that the department expects to be near its historical average of 50-70 vacancies by the end of the year.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected].