From its implementation in the late 1980s until now, the concept of problem-oriented policing has garnered international attention in the city of San Diego. But over the past several years, the program has been whittled away at until it’s virtually nonexistent. Sure police officials will tell you it’s still being used in spirit, but residents find that hard to believe when their community relations offices are boarded up and service officers who once met with them on a regular basis are nowhere to be found.
Priorities have changed in the city and so have funding. Which of these is ultimately to blame for the falling apart of problem oriented policing depends on who you ask.
Now-Mayor Jerry Sanders ”latched on” to the program when he was a captain in the SDPD. As he rose to Police Chief, this program was his baby and his number one concern. Now, his outlook has changed and he says the city simply can’t afford the costs of it.
It wasn’t just residents of San Diego that appreciated problem oriented policing and the positive relationships it created between police and citizens, it was the country and even the world. In 1990, the city hosted the first national conference on the subject and though other cities were piloting similar programs, the federal government gave the city millions of dollars to test the program completely.
What they found that was by giving the people of the city access to community officers and accessibly, and nearby store-front police outposts, there was an improvement in the relationship and even a decline in crime rates.
There are only half of the Community Relations Offices and community service officers have been cut as well. Code enforcement personnel, tasked with handling party houses and other community nuisances have dropped from 20 to 7.
But, city officials are quick to say “don’t panic.” They say regular officers of the SDPD are now trained in the problem oriented policing ways and there’s no longer such a need for the storefronts and specialized officers.
A shift in priorities tells another story. The new Chief is focused on using data to reduce response times by police. Measuring community satisfaction is no longer a concern and in fact, isn’t mentioned like years past in the proposed budget—only crime rate and response times are.
When problem oriented policing was at its height, officers were expected to spend about 60% of their time responding to calls and the remainder of their time meeting with and resolving issues within the communities. Now they are expected to spend 80% of their time on response calls and where they spend the remaining 20% is unclear.
Will the rate of criminal charges rise in San Diego as the trend continues? Crime rates across the country have been falling consistently over the past several years. As a matter of fact, the latest measurement showed San Diego experienced its lowest murder rate since the 1960s. So, it’s not likely crime will jump. But the trust between the police and the communities they serve could suffer nonetheless.