Experienced SF police investigators will be leaving in droves

May 31, 2013 7:25:44 PM PDT
San Francisco's most experienced police investigators will be leaving in droves at the end of next month. They were enrolled in a program designed to keep veteran officers from retiring, but that program is ending, which means the SFPD will have a big void to fill.

Central Police Station is in the heart of North Beach, Chinatown. It's staffed with the most senior officers. Of the 10 district stations, retirements are hitting this station the hardest. Half of its eight inspectors have left. The ranks of its patrol officers have also been depleted.

"The Chinatown beat, we had three officers, now we're down to one. A North Beach beat, same thing. We're down to one right now," said Central Police Station Capt. Garrett Tom.

DROP -- the Deferred Retirement Option Program -- was passed by San Francisco voters in 2008. It allowed retirement age officers to continue working while collecting their pensions from a special account. For inspectors, the DROP program ends at the end of June. Patrol officers have another year left. But some like Leon Sorhondo are leaving next month. Officer Sorhondo has been a cop for 40 years, 30 of them spent patrolling the streets of Chinatown.

"I just learned about a culture that was similar to my parents' background where emphasis on families and schools, education was very similar," said Sorhondo.

As veteran officers like Sorhondo leave, so go decades of invaluable experience and street savvy. Police union president Gary Delagnes says there'll be a huge learning curve.

"Learning how to conduct yourself out on the street, learning that six sense of police work, learning who to talk to, what questions to ask," said Delagnes.

Dealing with the loss of this expertise will be difficult, especially when 68 of the most seasoned inspector-sergeants leave in a month. They're the ones who investigate crime -- a job where experience really counts. Inspector Herman Jones of the Financial Crimes Unit has been a cop for 30 years. He's retiring from DROP in a week and a half.

"You have to make the mistakes and you have to know the people. You have to create a belief, for the lack of a better term, that people can come to you and get the job done," said Jones.

The retirements will hit the financial crimes unit hard. At the end of June, Jones and three of the six inspectors here will retire.

"Not everybody is walking out the door. We still have a lot of talent," said Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka.

Tomioka says senior officers will support and train newer cops. The inspectors' ranks will also be filled.

"We do hope to promote people before the end of the fiscal year and then we have probationary sergeants or inspectors that have worked the station investigation teams," said Tomioka.

To replace retiring patrol officers, the department is relying on new recruits. There are now two academy classes and another one with officers transferring from other police depts. Still, the end of the DROP program will leave a big void.


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