New evidence indicates San Jose's dwindling officer ranks are not only creating opportunities for criminals but may also be making the roads more dangerous.
Over the past few years, the number of deadly traffic accidents has skyrocketed in the Bay Area’s biggest city, and critics say the addition in deadly crashes lines up with a subtraction of traffic officers.
The last five years have been especially deadly on the streets of San Jose. On Monday, officers Bryan Jett and Mark Pimentel were charged with catching distracted drivers and speeders along Brokaw Road. It has become a bit of a lonely job since, on Monday, they were the only dedicated traffic enforcement officers. Back at the precinct, their partners’ motorcycles are collecting dust in the police garage. Their unit was gutted from 36 motorcycle officers in its heyday to just 10.
“It is a challenge,” said Sgt. Steven Payne. “It’s a challenge every day because what we have to do is be on top of our game every day. We can’t just be lax.”
With fewer officers on the streets, the numbers show an alarming increase in traffic deaths over the last five and a half years: There were 27 in 2010. Last year, that number jumped 62 percent, to 43.
In the first five months of 2015, there have already been 22 traffic fatalities.
“It is tragic,” Payne said, “to see someone lose their life in a traffic accident.”
A police union spokesperson said he is not surprised by the increase.
“People dying on the streets is a reflection of having less law enforcement,” said Officer James Gonzales, vice president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association. “Enforcement on the streets reduces fatalities.”
The SJPOA says drivers aren’t afraid of getting pulled over in San Jose anymore because they know there are fewer officers on the street. The union warns the numbers will only get worse because more officers are still leaving the force and not enough are joining the academy.
Officers Jett and Pimentel said they’ll be back on their bikes Tuesday, stopping drivers, hoping to prevent another memorial on the streets and sidewalks of San Jose.