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San Jose Cops Fleeing, City Looks to Add Officers

| September 4, 2013
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San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed (Tom Clifton/Flickr)

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who made the proposal with Councilman Sam Liccardo. (Tom Clifton/Flickr)

SAN JOSE (BCN and KQED) — The San Jose City Council on Tuesday approved a funding strategy that backers claim would add 141 new police officer positions and restore other city services but would require tens of millions in revenue the city does not yet have.

The council voted 10-1, with Councilman Ash Kalra opposed, for a proposal by Mayor Chuck Reed and Councilman Sam Liccardo that would raise the number of San Jose police officers from 1,109 in the current budget to 1,250 in four years.

The proposal seeks to investigate options to return city services to January 2011 levels, including restoring 10 percent pay cuts given to city employees, with police staffing the highest priority.

Reed and Liccardo also proposed restoring funding levels for fire, library and community center services.

But last week, as the San Jose Mercury News reported, San Jose’s police union slammed the plan. From the Merc …

The San Jose officers’ union, which has argued the city must restore the 10 percent pay cuts over the next year to keep cops from fleeing to higher-paying departments elsewhere, remained unimpressed.

Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, called the proposal “nothing more than convoluted rhetoric” from a mayor and council he accuses of “dismantling of our public safety infrastructure.”

“These two politicians have zero credibility when it comes to public safety and their latest plan is full of empty promises,” Unland said. “Reed and Liccardo gambled with our residents’ safety and lost, resulting in skyrocketing crime, unsafe neighborhoods and officers leaving in droves.” Full article

For several years now, San Jose has been losing officers at an alarming rate, many leaving for better-paying jobs after the city cut pay and pensions during a budget crisis. So far this year, the department has lost 75 officers, two-thirds of whom left after resigning their positions, Acting Police Chief Larry Esquivel said.

In July, San Jose police lost an arbitration case in which they had asked for a 10 percent raise, “raising the specter of even more officers fleeing the already lean force,” as the Merc wrote. Police and other unions have also challenged the city’s pension reform plan, Measure B, in court. The measure, overwhelmingly passed by voters in June 2012, gives city workers a choice between a less generous pension or paying more for their current benefits.

As of last week, the San Jose Police Department had 996 sworn officers, with about 43 police cadets nearing graduation from the police academy, police said.

How to pay

The city is now $20 million short of the money it would cost to restore the 10 percent salary cuts to city workers, and would need $35 million to restore police, fire, libraries and community centers to what they received in January 2011, Reed said.

Reed and Liccardo, in a joint memo to the council, reported that the money may be raised in a variety of ways, such as reducing police overtime pay, eliminating sick leave pay to officers at retirement and using $15 million the city set aside during labor negotiations with the Police Department.

Reed said at the meeting that the city should also consider asking city voters to pass a new tax measure, preferably on the ballot in November 2014, to raise additional funds.

San Jose also needs to find $70 million to $80 million in funding for needed repairs to city streets, Reed said.

“So we are a lot of money short from where we’d like to be, both to restore pay and to restore services,” Reed said.

“Today, we are talking really about prioritizing the work as we go forward in anticipation of being able to both restore services and to restore pay,” he said.

Hiring the 141 new police officers, at a cost of $153,000 in compensation plus $13,000 in equipment and other costs for each one, would alone require $23.4 million the city does not have, according to Reed.

The Reed-Liccardo plan would pay San Jose police officers an incentive bonus equal to 4 percent of their salaries to convince them to stay with the force.

Reed described the proposed strategy as a balance between reviving city services and pay and “making the Police Department the highest priority for restoring services and the highest priority for restoring pay.”

Acting Police Chief Esquivel, who attended the meeting, commended the council for proposing the 4 percent retention incentive for current officers.

The inducement would help “to keep our people here, from fleeing” to better-paying jobs in other cities, Esquivel said.

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