Acting Police Chief Larry Esquivel Caught in Labor Crossfire

Breaking up is hard to do. Breaking up a fight between the San Jose police union and City Hall could be damn near impossible.

In what appeared to be an effort to mend fences and remind people who’s the boss, Acting Police Chief Larry Esquivel sent an email this week to his command staff—deputy police chiefs, lieutenants and captains—scolding some of them for signing on to a letter critical of the city’s recent actions involving labor negotiations.

According to Jim Unland, a sergeant in the San Jose Police Department and president of the Police Officers Association, Esquivel’s email was “meant to intimidate commanders from participating in something like this again.”

Last week the City Council met for its regularly scheduled closed session, where labor relations updates are provided and the council directs staff on negotiations. In that meeting, councilmembers and Mayor Chuck Reed decided to send a letter to San Jose police officers’ homes, updating them on negotiations between the city and the POA. “It was merely supplemental information,” says David Vossbrink, the city’s communications director.

But Unland and POA Vice President John Robb took umbrage to city officials sidestepping the normal communications process, and union members received an email alert about the “unsigned ‘spin’ letter” sent to officers’ homes. In the alert, officers could click on a link that directed them to a drafted response, which they could then sign their names to. The letter could then be sent to the mayor and council, City Manger Debra Figone, Deputy City Manager Alex Gurza and Deputy Director of Employee Relations Jennifer Schembri.

When Esquivel became aware of the letter, he sent an email noted as “CONFIDENTIAL PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION Re: Labor negotiations” to his command staff, which was obtained by The Daily Fetch. The email was originally leaked to KTVU.

The police chief said in the email that he was “saddened that any commander would participate, encourage, or condone this tactic or action without knowing both sides of the issues and or asking clarifying questions, whether to me or through you chain (of command).”

Esquivel added: “To those of you that participated in this action and submitted emails to council, etc, please stop by my office before this week is over so I do not have to seek you out.”

Unland says he, and many officers he spoke with, took Esquivel’s letter as a threat, even though the police chief told the POA officials that there would be no disciplinary action taken against command staff members who signed their names to the letter sent to City Hall.

Unland paraphrases Esquivel’s email as such: “‘Remember who is in control of your work, of your career.’ That’s the only way I could take it. There’s no misreading between the lines. He’s angry about it and here you go.

“He’s entitled to his opinion, but it’s really not his place to insert himself,” Unland continues. “This is the negotiating process. It’s ugly. It’s frustrating, and it requires a ton of patience. There’s not a role for [the police chief] in this right now. And he doesn’t seem to want to understand that. I don’t think his motives are sinister or anything like that, but he has to understand that he’s not going to have influence over how the POA handles negotiations.”

Vossbrink disputes the POA’s interpretation of the letter sent to officers’ homes, adding that the chief’s email going public might only further damage the negotiating process.

“Clearly, it’s disappointing he had to send the letter in the first place,” Vossbrink says. “It’s probably doubly disappointing that the facts and the actual copy of the letter are out in the public as well, because he had the expectation of confidence he was sending it to his top people.”

Vossbrink confirmed that the city received “roughly 500” letters from San Jose police officers through the POA weblink, some of which included personal postscripts. Vossbrink added that one officer sent the same letter almost “75 times.”

UPDATE:

Here is the first email Esquivel sent to his command staff:

All,

I am sending this email to all commanders and above ONLY and expect that this communication stay as such.

Obviously you know that I have been working aggressively behind the scenes to let those in City leadership positions know and understand the importance, generally, of coming to some sort of resolution regarding “wages only.”  This is nothing new. I have been trying to assist in the process of only getting both sides to meet and communicate so that the City/POA can discuss, resolve, and agree upon a proposed wage increase for all our sworn members. We need that!

On Aug 14, the City sent out a proposal which proposed a 2 year 5% wage increase, 4% retention bonus and a Reopener clause.  Through the media, the POA called it “fuzzy math.”

The POA did not respond to the City but did send out an email blast to members denouncing the proposal.

On Aug 16, the City sent out mailers to members trying to assist in clarifying their proposal because the POA had not contacted them for any clarification, especially on the Reopener language.  The City’s letter highlighted the proposed Reopener provision which stated in part “…When a decision is made on Measure B, either the City or the POA could request to meet and confer only related to retirement benefits…”  Prior to that point, the POA had not met with or asked the City any for clarification, since the Aug 14 proposal.

On Aug 19 the POA sent out a counter proposal to the City and an email blast to members on how the City’s proposal (Reopener) is tied to Measure B.  The POA then sent out another email blast to members asking if they are angry, for various reasons, to click on a provided link sending a pre-written letter that would go to all City leaders voicing your displeasure with the mailer among other things.

I have seen the names of those that did in fact initiate emails (narrative letter written by the POA) to our City leaders. I would hope that those that did initiate the email read the content of that letter. I know there were a few commanders that participated in this action.  Believe me, I know there is frustration, I truly do!  I am saddened that any commander would participate, encourage, or condone this tactic or action without knowing both sides of the issues and or asking clarifying questions, whether to me or through your chain.  You are a commander and I would expect that you would seek clarification so that you are well informed and then relay that information to others that look to you for answers. Remember, you are part of this management team and we need to be strong and united. Your word, opinion and decisions, influence many!  As management, it is our job to be realistic, objective and well informed!  We need to be clear on expectations and roles, especially during these times.  We, I, also need to do a better job of communicating on important matters such as this, for that I apologize.

To those of you that participated in this action and submitted emails to council, etc, please stop by my office before the week is over so I do not have to seek you out.  If possible, Friday would be best.  Thank you.

Larry Esquivel
Acting Chief of Police
San Jose Police Department
larry.esquivel@sanjoseca.gov
408.277.4212

On Thursday afternoon, the chief sent this follow-up email to all sworn officers in the department:

All,

I’m sure you may have heard rumors about the content of an email I sent out to all commanders titled “Confidential Privilege Communications.”  It was in response to letters being sent to our City leaders. While the content of my email may have been strongly worded, I can guarantee you that my email was not to intimidate anyone. If you felt that way, I apologize for the misinterpretation.

Like you, I am very passionate about how and what we do here and about doing the right thing for you and our community!  I take great pride in leading you and hearing from you as to ways I can best improve your working conditions.

With that said, the purpose of meeting with the commanders was to understand their opinion and to reinforce our respective roles within our Department, nothing more.  I have met with most commanders already and ALL of those meetings have been positive and reassuring, in the sense of us all moving forward “together.”  It is paramount that we are united and equally important for me to know that you are individuals and to understand your feelings and opinions.

It is unfortunate what my original message has developed into and I apologize for any distraction this may have caused you. I know the frustration level is high, I get that.  I still believe and am very hopeful that there will be some resolution.  Stand tall and continue to keep your head up.  Things will get better!

Continue doing the great job you are doing, you continue to make this Department shine. I am forever proud to wear this uniform alongside you!

Please, if you need to vent, give input, suggestions, or critique, I am always available and willing to listen to you, that’s my job and it’s very important to me!

Be safe please.

Larry Esquivel
Acting Chief of Police
San Jose Police Department
larry.esquivel@sanjoseca.gov
408.277.4212

On Friday morning, the city sent a letter to the POA’s vice president asking to meet and continue negotiations.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to josh@metronews.com or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

25 Comments

  1. So where is a copy of the “unsigned” letter that was sent to the officers’ homes? If you want to write about all the turbulence this letter has created, wouldn’t it be appropriate to include a copy of the letter so readers get the full picture?

    • http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/20508

      The “unsigned” letter is the first page of the three that are included in the link.

      Before anyone points out that page 2 is signed by Jennifer Schembri please note that page 2 is dated August 14, 2013 and that just below the letterhead it clearly states “SENT VIA EMAIL”

      Pages 2 and 3 are totally separate documents from page 1which is dated August 16, 2013 and is unsigned.

      as far as the CIty Manager and Mayor’s contention that the SJPOA is not communicating the CIty’s offers to its membership , pages 2 and 3 were passed on to the membership via email.

      If I were the SJPOA I would give the Mayor EXACTLY what he is asking for: A vote on the offer. 

      I believe he will find out exactly what the SJPOA memberships thinks of him and the offer. I will fail and fail OVERWHELMINGLY!  Make him eat crow with a generous helping of gravy fresh off the train!!!

      (published for posterity on the MW FB site)

  2. The city did not have to send the letter.  P.O.A members are updated by the association all the time.  This letter was sent to try and cause tension between members, but what they failed to realize the more they beat us down the more united we are.  As for the command staff participating the heads of the police department and the city need to realize this is affecting us all.  I believe the chief is trying his best during this difficult time, but if the city does not give him the tools ( more officers) needed to perform the job it won’t work and it won’t matter who takes the role of chief.  Until the city and P.O.A come to an agreement SJPD will continue to lose experienced officers.  A once great department has transformed to “hanging by a thread”.

  3. I heard a commentator recently describe a certain middle eastern country:

    “It used to be a state that had an army;
    Now, it’s an army that has a state.”

    This mirrors the state of affairs in San Jose in the minds of many on this forum:

    “San Jose used to be a city that had a public employee union;

    Now, it’s a public employee union that has a city.”

    • Its amazing how the same council aid trolls keep piping in… Keep beating your drums…. No one is listening the crime and chaos is drowning your whining of “poor me Im a have not” Go play with your stock options and quit whining…

  4. What Chief Esquivel accomplished by emailing his commanders was to reveal his poor grasp of his role as chief, raise serious concerns about his professional credibility, and insult the intelligence of his command staff. Quite a misstep: you’d almost think he was trained by Chuck Reed.

    The chief is apparently under the impression that he, the acting department head, has legal or professional standing in the negotiation process. He does not. At most he has a right to offer his position and influence for use as a go-between or conciliator, but he is otherwise a non-actor in labor negotiations. Why he didn’t learn this before ever earning a command position raises some serious questions about the department’s promotional priorities.

    In his email to his command officers the chief stated:

    “… the City sent out mailers to members trying to assist in clarifying their proposal…”
    —The implication here is that he understands the City’s motives and agrees with the contention that, due to negligence on the part of the POA, there was a genuine need for the City to explain the ramifications of their latest offer. How can he possibly know this and why would anyone believe him?

    “… the POA had not contacted them (the City) for any clarification, especially on the Reopener language.”
    —Besides the fact that he is sounding very much like an agent for the City’s negotiation team, the chief seems to be implying that he has a full understanding of the “Reopener” provision and how it might come into play depending on future events. Now, this is really interesting, because he also indicates that his employees do not share his comprehensive understanding (thus, the need for the City’s letter). At this point the question becomes, if the POA has failed to adequately explain all this to its members—as he insinuates, then who was it that educated him? Does he utilize the services of expensive legal experts (as does the POA)? Apparently not, given his confusion over his role in labor disputes. Or is it the case (most assuredly) that the chief got his education about this complex and critical contract provision while sitting on someone’s lap at City Hall? “Once upon a time…”

    “I would hope that those (command officers) that did in fact initiate the email read the content of that letter.”
    —Here he reveals doubts about the wisdom and ability of his commanders to read and understand a simple form letter (the POA prepared complaint sent to the city) before signing it and sending it to their employer. Excuse me, but this sounds a lot like Larry writing not to a high-paid command staff, but to his brothers Moe and Curly. An insult and an embarrassment. 

    This is what we can expect from a department head handpicked by the clowns currently in charge at City Hall. I wonder if the man is even smart enough to understand that they’ll only keep him around until they’ve used up all the credibility and goodwill he earned with the troops early in his career?

  5. A Liittle journalism here please. The city sending out a letter to employees is going around the bargaining unit.  This is against city codes and the National Labor Act.  There hopefully will be an investigation into this.  But with the media not doing its job as watch dog, this Mayor continues to LIE and does what ever he wants.  500 cops out of 800 wrote back and told the Mayor they do not trust him and to blank off.  There is no 9% raise as is reported by the liar Reed.  This come with strings to Measure B.  so when the Mayor looses measure B in court he then could reopen it under the contract.  Report that!  The cops are still leaving.  600 to date as it is biggest exodus of police from a city in American history.  The mayor continues to vilify the cops.  Yep great negotiating by a Mayor that has taken the city to the dumps.  The people need to wake up and wonder why do the men and women that protect them think Reed, Liccardo Figone constant, Oliverio are crooks.  Because they are!

    • The solution to this problem is simple. Have all the bigmouth politicians who have awarded amnesty to millions of illegal aliens living here declare immunity from all our laws for those who have broken our immigration laws. After all, if our leaders are going to outrageously defy one form of established social convention (that immigration laws be enforced), they should at least have the moral courage to address the results of that defiance by spearheading the defiance of another (the right of Americans not to be murdered by gang members, raped, kidnapped, run over by drunk drivers, or mauled by pit bulls)

      Of course, no one in a position of authority would dare admit that, absent those millions of illegals, there would be no shortage of cops and no excuse for this eternal self serving bickering amongst taxpayer funded government employees.

      But as long as we keep increasing budgets for law enforcement, section 8 housing, public education, food stamps, public health programs, bullet trains, etc., etc., etc., we can mask the deleterious effects caused by uncontrolled immigration. It’s now gotten to the point that the growth industry that is our Government, depends on and profits from this infiltrating lawlessness. Every government employee, right down to the beat cop, whether or not he knows it, is cashing in on this artificially created increased demand for their services and is encouraging more of the same. The only winners are the illegals, the deadbeats, and those in government. The rest of us are getting hosed.

  6. The SJPOA has every right to communicate to their members about labor negotiations. The Chief has no right to be sending emails to officers that wrote to the City.

    It is their right to voice their concerns.

    Sounds like the Chief is a hack of the Mayor. You think you can intimidate the police? haha.

  7. The more officers that leave plays into Reeds hand.  Less membership. But less seniority.  Reed and Oliverio think a rookie cop can do the same job as a cop with 15, 25, or 30 years. But he is wrong.  It will documented that the cops in their first 15 years have all the million dollar lawsuits.  Will cost city millions.

  8. It appears that the “chief” just proved the Peter Principle . Leadership is not about intimidation.it is about providing vision, inspiring, motivating and being trustworthy. It appears the chief failed on all fronts.

  9. I’d be interested in hearing the city’s explanation as to why they provided Chief Esquivel with the names of the officers who sent the email. What kind of action were they expecting him to take? Also, why did the Chief take the time to read the names on the city’s list?

  10. Larry Esquivel is a good man, but he has no business getting involved in these negotiations. With his Chief’s level retirement already locked in, it appears he may have lost touch with the rank and file and the impact that Reed’s actions have had on those making much less than he does. His response to members of his command staff that chose to stand in solidarity with the rest of the POA is extremely disappointing and will only serve to further damage the already devestated morale within the department. Staying neutral during this critical time would have been understandable. Siding with the city and against the officers is unforgivable.

  11. This City is as corrupt as it gets , plain and simple .  Chief Esquivel should have done the right thing , AND STAYED OUT OF IT . All he has to do is , lead his department and take take of his Officers. Thats it. NOT get involve with negotiations , or any other spat between workers and the City .

  12. Sad state of affairs, I feel sorry for officers who are vested but not with enough time to leave.  New recruits are screwed.  I would not recruit any new city employee to come to San Jose.

    It is so sad what this council has done to employees and the same what to run for mayor.  God Bless you all , I am so happy I left the city after 30 years.

    Sorry to say Measure B will be passed after all this council is gone.