The nation knows the San Bernardino, Ca., Police Department for its heroism on Dec. 2, when its officers led a perilous search for a husband-and-wife terrorist team that had fatally shot 14 people and wounded 22 others at a holiday party. The daily reality for San Bernardino’s finest is entirely different: a corps savaged by budget cuts, rattletrap equipment, crushing workloads and sunken morale, reports the New York Times. Since the city went bankrupt in 2012, its tax base swept away by the recession, officers have retired or moved to other departments in droves. “We had an exodus, everyone jumping ship,” said one detective. At its peak in 2008, the department employed 346 sworn officers. Today, there are 220, a 36 percent reduction.
Jarrod Burguan, the department’s chief and a 24-year veteran of the force, said the slide had been tough. “We’d never been an agency before that people left for other departments — the type of place where people said, ‘I don’t like working here,’ ” he said. “If anything, we attracted guys because it was a place where it’s fun being a cop.” In November, Burguan proposed a five-year, $50.6 million rebuilding plan, adding officers and, new cruisers to combat what FBI data say is one of California’s highest crime rates. San Bernardino has long been a cop’s kind of town, where drugs, gang wars and the manifold problems of a large lower-income population gave rookies more action and valuable experience than a cushy suburban assignment would offer. A city of about 215,000 people, half Hispanic, San Bernardino suffered in past decades as its biggest employers — an Air Force base, a nearby steel mill — were shuttered. At the same time, criminal gangs began moving in, forced from Los Angeles by a police crackdown and gentrifying slums.