By Jorge Casuso
October 17, 2023 -- The Santa Monica Police Department has made major strides in addressing historically low staffing levels and is approaching a full force, the City Manager told the Council last week.
The Department has hired 18 new recruits so far this year, bringing the total number of officers to 218, just ten shy of the 228 officers budgeted for the current fiscal year, said City Manager David White.
The force could add between four and six new officers by year's end, White said, noting that six of the current vacancies "resulted from the Council taking action to authorize even more officers."
"Even in this challenging recruitment landscape the efforts have been going well," White told the Council. But he cautioned that "with many officers retiring, there is still much work to be done to be fully staffed."
While the budgeted force has seldom, if ever been fully filled, a surge in retirements and a dearth of new recruits has resulted in a record shortage of officers ("Santa Monica Police Force Faces Record Shortage of Officers," April 15, 2022).
According to SMPD officials, both the coronavirus shutdown and the May 31, 2021 riots made it more difficult to recruit and retain officers.
In 2020 and 2021, a total of 33 officers retired from the force, while only 12 new officers were hired after the health emergency brought recruitment efforts to a virtual standstill.
The shortage was exacerbated by 21 officers on medical leave due to long-term injuries, according to data provided to the Lookout in April 2022.
The staffing gap has been largely filled with nearly $9 million in overtime, according to the revised budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23 that ended June 30.
Of the $8,976,484 spent in overtime, the lion's share -- $5,759,847 -- was paid to officers in Patrol Operations.
According to Transparent California, 13 Santa Monica police officers made more than 100,000 in overtime last year, with one officer earning $191,659.12 in overtime alone.
Santa Monica -- where 90 police officers and firefighters were among the City's top 100 wage earners -- is part of a nationwide trend that has seen overtime among public safety workers skyrocket ("Police, Fire Dominate Top Earners List," August 23, 2023).
City officials note that last year, the Council authorized additional overtime to deploy the Directed Action Response Team (DaRT) at the Pier and downtown areas, while the Police Department also implemented a special deployment in downtown to augment patrol operations.
Meanwhile, first amendment activity in Santa Monica, which includes ongoing demonstrations by the hotel workers union Unite HERE Local 11, requires increasing the number of officers, officials said.