Once-bar­ren S.J. po­lice academy now over­flow­ing

Chief wel­comes more than 100 re­cruits af­ter just seven signed up last year

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Robert Sa­longa rsa­longa@ba­yare­anews­group.com

SAN JOSE >> Around this time last year, when po­lice Chief Ed­die Gar­cia in­spected and ad­dressed po­lice academy re­cruits at the sub­sta­tion in South San Jose, he was easy to hear.

Granted, the vo­cal Gar­cia isn’t ex­actly the kind of per­son­al­ity who needs a mega­phone. But there were also just a lit­tle more than half a dozen cadets then.

Mon­day, when Gar­cia made those same rounds, he made a point to ask, “Can every­one hear me?” be­cause he was out­num­bered by more than a hun­dred re­cruits in train­ing.

The scene at the sub­sta­tion was un­usual in the

depart­ment’s re­cent his­tory, with two con­cur­rent acad­e­mies — Class 30 will grad­u­ate in De­cem­ber and Class 31 in April — field­ing 101 prospec­tive of­fi­cers be­tween them. With fresh mem­o­ries of a seven-mem­ber class last year, Gar­cia took a mo­ment to take in the wel­come sight that fol­lowed a decade in which the San Jose Po­lice Depart­ment shrank by more than a third amid eco­nomic re­ces­sion and an ac­ri­mo­nious, pro­tracted bat­tle over pay and re­tire­ment ben­e­fits.

“There’s noth­ing more pos­i­tive and sym­bolic,” Gar­cia said of the ro­bust acad­e­mies. “We’re out of the dark­ness, and we’re ris­ing.”

The po­lice depart­ment is au­tho­rized to have 1,109 of­fi­cers, but last year the staffing dropped to nearly 200 un­der that to­tal. There has been a dra­matic turn­around this year.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est of­fi­cial count, SJPD is field­ing 1,016 of­fi­cers in­clud­ing the two acad­e­mies and new of­fi­cers still in field train­ing. Af­ter ac­count­ing for of­fi­cers on dis­abil­ity, mod­i­fied duty and mil­i­tary leave, the depart­ment has 818 sworn of­fi­cers avail­able for ac­tual street duty.

Still, climb­ing past 1,000 of­fi­cers, wher­ever they are in the train­ing process, is a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for the depart­ment. When sworn staffing dipped be­low 1,000 in 2015, it marked the first time that hap­pened in 30 years, when San Jose’s pop­u­la­tion was about 40 per­cent smaller than its cur­rent 1 mil­lion res­i­dents.

The up­swing has gen­er­ally co­in­cided with a new po­lice con­tract rat­i­fied in Fe­bru­ary, which in­sti­tuted a 20-per­cent pay raise over 3½ years with as­sorted bonuses and in­cen­tives, bring­ing the depart­ment in line with sur­round­ing Bay Area po­lice

agen­cies who had lured of­fi­cers with more at­trac­tive com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages.

The na­tional ra­tio of of­fi­cers to res­i­dents is about 3.4 for ev­ery 1,000 res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to the FBI. San Jose has less than 1 of­fi­cer per 1,000 res­i­dents, while Oak­land fielded 1.76 of­fi­cers and San Fran­cisco staffed 2.6 of­fi­cers per 1,000 res­i­dents.

San Jose has never had a high ra­tio in its his­tory but still achieved “safest big city” sta­tus in the 2000s when about 1,400 of­fi­cers were on the force. In his remarks to the cur­rent acad­e­mies Mon­day, Gar­cia re­flected on the hope the cadets rep­re­sent for the depart­ment’s on­go­ing re­build.

“This has been such a long time com­ing. For those of us who have been through the hard­est times in this depart­ment, it’s re­ally tough not to get emo­tional to see you guys out here,” he said. “You are go­ing to be the sal­va­tion of this depart­ment.”

ROBERT SA­LONGA — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

San Jose po­lice Chief Ed­die Gar­cia, right, speaks to cadets. Last year, staffing dropped be­low 1,000 of­fi­cers.

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