SJ Police Chief Calls City Council a "Brick Wall"

Outgoing San Jose police Chief Chris Moore has a lot to say about the person who takes over the post.

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    San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore

    San Jose police Chief Chris Moore, who is set to retire in January, said he hopes whoever takes his place will be able to walk the line between representing the interests of officers and rallying support from City Hall.

    Moore said something has to give, because operating the Police Department on its current budget is unsustainable and morale is being affected as many officers retire or resign.

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    Moore said that has been hard to watch, and that he regrets not "pushing his way" into labor negotiations between the police officers' union and city, saying he wishes he could have acted as a mediator between the two sides.

    City spokesman David Vossbrink said there is a simple reason why Moore wasn't there. "Its not the role of a department head to be at the negotiating table," he said.

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    Moore, who was named acting chief in October 2010 and took over as permanent chief several months later, said he was surprised by his interactions with the mayor and City Council during his tenure, saying it felt like he was "talking to a brick wall."

    "What surprised me, honestly, in the last couple years, was I knew that the budget situation was going to be bad -- and I knew that, and I signed up for that ... What surprised me was the absolutist nature of City Hall and the mayor in his effort to drive down the retirement cost."

    Since Mayor Chuck Reed's ballot Measure B passed in June, its decreases in pension benefits intended to cut city costs have set off a slew of lawsuits, including one filed by the San Jose Police Officers' Association.

    Moore has struggled to lead the department as droves of officers leave -- he said he has a thick stack of about 75 resignation letters on his desk, and that he hopes that whoever takes his place will "push hard to bring compensation up."

    How could the next chief do that more successfully than Moore? With "better persuasive skills than myself," Moore said.

    Moore said he is confident that the skills of the people he is leaving behind at the Police Department will carry the department through the tough times, no matter who is chief. "Now, hanging on to those people is going to be the hard part," Moore said.

    Although he is confident in his decision to leave, there's no question the moment is bittersweet. "Some people call it heartbroken. And I don't want to use that term because I'm not heartbroken, but I'm pretty close, to see what I'm seeing," Moore said. Moore has worked at the San Jose Police Department for 27 years.

    "When you've been part of an organization as long as I have -- and here it's 27 and a half years ... you see the pain ... just seeing the drastic changes to an organization that is full of such good people, and watching them leave," Moore said.

    Not only is the department understaffed, with many people working overtime, but salaries are no longer competitive, Moore said. Furthermore, Moore said, the number of crimes that are being left unsolved -- such as residential burglaries, since the burglary unit was recently dismantled -- are costing residents money.

    "Right now, we don't have enough officers to provide basic beat patrol services ... you can't sustain it over a long period of time," he said.

    Moore said that although he lauds the mayor and members of the City Council who have supported police pension reform for "trying to solve a problem," he believes the result is an underfunded, understaffed Police Department that creates a slew of hidden costs for the city.

    Moore questioned the money saved through pension reform, as he believes the changes in Measure B and other cutbacks are driving away veteran officers, and it is expensive to bring on new recruits.

    The Police Department has said it costs more than $170,000 to recruit, hire and train each new officer. He also said that having more inexperienced officers on the streets could be a liability for the department. With new recruits, Moore said, "mistakes tend to get made."

    The city tonight is holding the second of four meetings intended to gather input from the public on the qualities they would like to see in their next chief.

    Tonight's meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Camden Community Center at 3369 Union Ave. Additional meetings will be held on Monday, Dec. 3, at the Mayfair Community Center and on Monday, Dec. 10, at the Southside Community Center.