The Mercury News
Police brass push for Measure F
Advocates claim initiative’s passage is only way to solve SJPD staffing crisis
SAN JOSE — A month after the city declared an emergency so the San Jose Police Department could patch together street patrols, police brass are more forcefully stumping for a ballot measure they say is the only hope to end a protracted staffing crisis.
The latest overture, presented to the City Council on Tuesday, is backed by a city audit that says “historic vacancies have caused overtime costs to skyrocket and officer workload to increase,” to the tune of overtime pay tripling to $35 million in eight years and now accounting for more than 10 percent of the annual department budget.
Officer James Gonzales, vice president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said the
newly released figures come as no surprise.
“Officers have been working dangerous levels of excessive overtime for years now. They don’t know when they’re coming home, when their days off are going to be, if any,” Gonzales said.
The audit found that officers in the city worked an average of 450 hours of overtime in 2015, increasing their work year by more than 20 percent. The City Council declared a technical state of emergency at the end of August that allowed Chief Eddie Garcia to override collectively bargained work conditions and reassign officers from investigative and other specialized bureaus to patrol.
Mayor Sam Liccardo stressed the urgency by alluding to the approximately one dozen officers living part-time in recreational vehicles parked near police headquarters to accommodate unpredictable overtime shifts.
“The trailers in the parking lot where officers are sleeping, those are the symbols,” Liccardo said, “and a testament to the challenges they are facing every day.”
In its own report, the Police Department also stated that it has seen a net loss of 485 officers since 2012, when the pension-reform initiative Measure B was passed, accelerating an exodus of officers that began with austerity measures spurred by the Great Recession in 2008.
This November’s Measure F, which would replace many of the controversial provisions of Measure B, is not necessarily being viewed as a panacea to that attrition but is firmly being presented by advocates as the only hope to stabilize the department.
Under current attrition rates, and accounting for 20 recruits in each police academy, the department is projected to drop from its current number of 912 — the fewest officers since the 1980s — to 890 in July 2019. The department is authorized to field 1,109 officers.
The Police Department’s worst-case scenario entails Measure F failing at the polls, which officials say will drive away recruits and officers, leaving 739 officers by the same 2019 milestone.
The most optimistic projection has Measure F passing, thereby lessening the rate of resignations and beefing up recruitment under the idea that San Jose police pay and benefits would become competitive to other regional police agencies. This rosy timeline projects three academy classes of 45 recruits each year and a modest return of officers who left, all contributing to the ranks swelling to 1,167 by July 2019.
“We know there are officers who have left who are waiting for the outcome of this,” Garcia said, adding that the projections are based on conservative estimates of officers returning. “We can sell this department and the police work we do here.”
The department and advocates are banking entirely on the passage of Measure F as the only workable scenario with no alternatives. That raises the ire of Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who has championed a thrice-revived proposal to contract peripheral police services with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol, a plan that police officials have dismissed as impractical.
Oliverio also contends the ballot measure is not sufficiently narrowed to police since it would apply to other city employees, and says that the city has to be open to new ideas to provide police services while SJPD rebuilds.
“Measure F is being sold as only being about police, when approximately 5 percent of those benefiting from increased pensions are police officers. It’s a shame we cannot do what other cities do today; instead, the child pornography unit is cut and residents will wait 10 years for police staffing to increase to historic levels,” Oliverio said. “At this point, call in the National Guard, but then the powers that be would probably discredit our military personnel as not qualified.
But advocates of Measure F, which currently has no organized opposition, contend that the singular focus is not a political ploy, but rather a reflection of a harsh reality stemming from years of staffing losses.
“The scariest thing about our situation is there are no viable alternatives other than the passage of Measure F to get us out of this mess,” Gonzales said. “If it’s not passed, the number of officers leaving will increase, and that’s a scenario we have no solution for.”