Police academy in city’s budget cross hairs

Academy classes may be the Police Department’s first casualty as city officials attempt to close the gap on a $338.4 million budget deficit, making Mayor Gavin Newsom’s aggressive goal of hiring 250 new officers in the next year all the more difficult.

The move will save $363,000, police Chief Heather Fong said, but others are calling it a bad idea as The City, which is short of the mandated minimum staffing of 1,971 officers, has seen 33 killings to date. In 2007, The City hit a decade-high 98 homicides.

“It’s a huge deal,” police union president Gary Delagnes said. “We could lose 400 to 600 officers in the next four or five years to retirement, and one less academy class means we’re going to fall behind.”

The applicant pool has grown during the last three years due to the Police Department’s recruiting events up and down the West Coast as well as a new contract that boosts officer pay by more than $5,000 a year.

In 2005, a year in which San Francisco experienced a sharp increase in homicides and violent crime, there was only one class of 51 students. But after Newsom pledged to hire 750 new officers in the next three years, academy classes boomed.

In 2006, there were 140 recruits in three classes. In 2007, there were 263 recruits and double the number of classes, according to police.

And while Newsom has yet to submit his budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors, officials have already looked at reducing the number of classes this year. One academy class scheduled to begin today has already been pushed back nearly one month. The delay means a fifth class for the year may becut before the fiscal year ends. With one less academy class, The City loses dozens of officers, Delagnes said.

Ultimately, fewer academy classes throughout the year could result in fewer applicants and longer waiting times, he said.

But whatever is cut from the budget, mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard said, will be based on “overall need as well as funding.”

“We have a $338.4 million deficit, which requires that everything be considered for savings,” he said. “But more importantly, Mayor Newsom has funded over 700 new police officers, which has positioned The City to possibly meet the 1,971 staffing mandate in fiscal year 2008-09.”

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