San Jose Police Staffing Questions Spur Safety Concerns

The question in one South Bay city: just how safe will the streets be in the next couple of years?

According to some San Jose police officers, the department will be losing about 100 officers on the streets in as little as two years from now. It was the topic at a community meeting at the Willow Glen Community and Senior Center Thursday night, where residents heard directly from police officers and firefighters in their respective unions.

“City council is telling the public to deal with skyrocketing crime, they’re going to add 200 officers. That’s mathematically impossible,” said James Gonzales, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers Association (SJPOA). “We know that in year ‘15 and ‘16 we’re likely to have less officers in the streets than we have now.”

The San Jose Police Department confirmed the department has 904 officers who are actually working, not factoring in those who are sidelined, for instance, by an injury. Eddy Garcia, assistant chief of police, said that number is expected to dwindle in the next couple of years.

The SJPOA has taken that a step further, factoring in the estimated average of 70 or so officers who are on disability or leave, concluding there will be about 809 in 2016. Gonzales said the city’s reliance on the police academy to grow the force doesn’t make any sense, given the numbers.

For instance, the last academy class to graduate was in September 2013. Instead of the usual 60, there were only 40. Of those, only 22 remain. Gonzales blamed Measure B.

“Measure B lowers the disability benefits for new San Jose police officers that removes the safety net that every other officer in California has,” said Gonzales. “That coupled with having the lowest pension plan that can be removed at any time makes San Jose not a competitive place to work. That can only be fixed by fixing Measure B and that’s something the city council can’t do.”

Garcia added, “We’re losing officers. We need to retain the force we have now. We’re losing officers because of the benefits package that they feel is not competitive with other cities.”

The SJPOA is criticizing Sam Liccardo, San Jose city council member, and his public safety proposal first released in August 2013 that aims to grow the police department by efficiently using scarce resources and finding funding to put back into the force.

Councilman Liccardo said his plan is already working, getting city council backing and also already restoring an eleven-percent pay cut that officers previously took.

“The assumption that nothing will change between now and then is a false premise,” Liccardo countered. “I’m pushing for changes now. I’m pushing to restore pay, pushing to restore staffing now, I’m pushing to find how we can better use scarce resources.”

The numbers spell out the trend clearly: according to statistics from the SJPD, the department has lost nearly 400 officers since 2008. But both sides are blaming the other for turning this into a political attack during an election year.

“Trying to pigeon hole this into a very simple binary on-and-off, this is what’s going to happen, is very misleading to the public,” said Liccardo. “Truth of the matter is, we have a head of police union actively encouraging recruiters from other cities to come to our police union hall. We have a head of a police union actively telling new recruits inaccurate information about disability protections for the force.”

The SJPOA said even if city council members didn’t know these latest numbers, they’ve known about the trend of a shrinking force.

“We know the city has these projections and they’re not telling the public what the staffing is in San Jose,” said Gonzales.

Police officers weren’t the only ones set to speak to Willow Glen residents. Firefighters from the local union said they’ve been dealing with extremely low staffing. In fact, they say despite San Jose being the tenth largest city in the U.S., it has the lowest staffing numbers out of the 30 most populous cities in the country.

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