Once-barren S.J. police academy now overflowing
Chief welcomes more than 100 recruits after just seven signed up last year
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.”
San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia, right, speaks to cadets. Last year, staffing dropped below 1,000 officers.