San Diego Police headquarters
The barren new main entrance to San Diego Police headquarters. Photo by JW August

A visit to the San Diego Police Department headquarters in downtown San Diego may be startling to anyone familiar with building on Broadway. While it still retains its clean-looking, contemporary design from 1986, it’s looking grimy, dirty and in need of a large amount of elbow grease.

The front plaza looks like it’s been abandoned. The sign on the front door routes you to the back door where more ugly surprises await.

As you approach the entrance, you see planters filled with dirt or dead vegetation. Garbage litters the grounds, and the exterior of the building itself is dirty. Inside is no better.  

On a recent visit, one officer at the front desk was surrounded by temporary signage taped on the walls, and the floors were dirty, the windows uncleaned. I felt for the solo officer, who was courteous and helpful but clearly juggling a lot of things.  

I went on social media and posted the photos I took of the exterior, wondering if anyone else had seen what I had. Steve Albrecht, a former officer and now a security expert, was one person who said he had.

“All true,” he wrote. “I was there in September and it looked dark and depressing inside. Carpet, paint, lighting all need upgrades. It was a jewel when it opened. Looks like COVID, low staffing, and facility budget cuts have tarnished it.” 

A barren planter at police headquarters. Photo by JW August

Asked to comment on the current conditions, Lt. Adam Sharki, the department’s public information officer, declined to comment and referred me to the new leader of the police officers union, Jared Wilson, also a sworn police officer, who spoke freely.

He said he is focused on “retention efforts and ensuring officers are fairly compensated,” and he “knows of no city efforts to fix” the current conditions.

“HQ looks post-apocalyptic,” he said. “It is so dirty, has dead plants all around it, and a broken fountain in front. It’s systemic in the city government to let things get this bad.”

He added that the memorial plaques that were above the doors have fallen off, and the entire building needs window washing. 

Probably the most disturbing thing Wilson said was that “our facilities are in a bad state and much of our equipment and facilities are dated and improperly maintained.”

The police department has a $568.2 million annual budget. For the current fiscal year, only $863,000 is earmarked for maintenance of the headquarters building by an outside contractor.

Details of this contract show it is largely for janitorial and landscaping services. This money comes out of the city’s operating budget, which also has to cover a wide range of other services, like lifeguards and parks.

Councilman Stephen Whitburn, whose district includes the headquarters location, chose not to comment for this story.

But Erin Noel, fiscal and policy analyst with the city’s office of the Independent Budget Analyst, explained that the city’s current needs “far outweigh funding.” Her recent report on infrastructure showed that many of the city’s facilities are “chronically underfunded.” 

She said the state of the police headquarters is an example of what happens when city facilities are not regularly maintained. 

“The Facilities Services Division staff currently spends about 80 percent of their work doing reactive maintenance to fix breakdowns and make emergency repairs, compared with only 20 percent of their work being dedicated to preventative maintenance,” Noel said.

A “truly sad face for law enforcement” is how  former county agriculture official Kathleen Thuner responded to my initial social media post. But she has a good idea: “At least city parks could put some drought resistant native plants in the available space.”

JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.