Mayor, Councilman Liccardo’s Police Department Plan Flawed from the Start

Last week, Mayor Chuck Reed and Councilmember Sam Liccardo submitted a proposal to bolster our public safety capacity by focusing on San Jose’s inability to retain police officers. The gist of the Reed-Liccardo proposal was to hire 200 police officers by restoring wages by 10 percent within the next four years. On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable idea. However, because this proposal was more about timely politics than about meaningful policy, I could not support the plan.

There is no question that the ability to retain our current police officers and the ability to recruit new, talented officers are critically important, because we are now approaching a third consecutive year where at least 100 officers will have left the police department. To provide some context, in 2009, we had just under 1,400 police officers. According to a report given to the council just last week, we now have just under 1,000 officers. The Reed-Liccardo plan will not solve this crisis.

First, the plan fails to recognize that the total compensation for SJPD officers is down as much as 20 percent or more if you include the amount that officers pay into their own retirement. This is particularly relevant because neighboring communities—where our police officers are now going—pay significantly more in total compensation. Second, it is important to note that the City’s most recent offer to the police union is a 2.5 percent raise a year for two years. If this framework were to be followed over the next four years, we would essentially be saying to our police officers that by 2017 we will pay you what you were getting paid back in 2009. Given the current rate of police resignations and retirements, I have significant concerns that the Reed-Liccardo plan is not nearly substantial enough to stem the tide of police departures.

For these reasons, I suggested scrapping the four-year timeframe of the Reed-Liccardo plan and examining strategies to accomplish the same goals within a shorter time frame. This recommendation was rejected by Councilmember Liccardo, which doesn’t speak well of our supposed commitment to making San Jose safe and restoring police pay as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, the Reed-Liccardo plan fails to take into account the impact of one of the most repugnant (and under-reported) aspects of Measure B: the new eligibility criteria for disability service retirements for police officers and fire fighters that is possibly the most restrictive in California.

Under Measure B, a person will be considered disabled only if that person “cannot do work that they did before” and, if that person is a police officer or a firefighter, “cannot perform any other jobs described in the city’s classification plan in the employee’s department.” The truly unconscionable part of the new disability rule is that “the determination of qualification for a disability retirement shall be made regardless of whether there are other positions available at the time a determination is made.” (emphasis added)

So, here’s an example of what this new disability retirement definition means for practical purposes. Let’s say a police officer is injured while on duty and ends up in a wheelchair. As a result, he can no longer do the same work prior to the injury. Under the new rules, he would be required to take any other job in the department that he is still capable of performing, such as a fingerprint examiner or as a crime prevention specialist. However, if all the positions for clerks and fingerprint examiners are filled, as is often the case, he will not qualify for a disability retirement. No other law enforcement or fire department in the state has such restrictive policies for those who serve and protect us. I mention this because the reduced wages and benefits play a large role in the recent police departures, but they are not the only cause. Measure B, particularly the new disability provisions, demeans the men and women who work to protect us.

It is also important to remember that the police officers voluntarily took a 10 percent cut in pay to help San Jose get through the recent recession. Interestingly, in his blog article that links to his recent Change.org petition in support of his proposal, Councilmember Liccardo chose to recap recent history by noting that “[d]uring the Great Recession, we made tough choices and difficult cuts because revenues fell and retirement obligations ballooned. In those years, employee unions like the San Jose Police Officer Association (POA) demanded that we continue to spend money we did not have to sustain retirement benefits.” Liccardo’s history lesson fails to note that in July 2011, the POA agreed to a pay cut in the amount of 10 percent, and that in December of 2011, the POA agreed to extend that pay cut through June 2013. An accurate “history” lesson should have mentioned these facts.

Although the Reed-Liccardo plan makes for great headlines on campaign mailers or sound bites for the 11 o’clock news, it is not going to close the floodgates of officers leaving San Jose. Last week, Councilmember Liccardo seemed to take offense to some of my comments suggesting that the sudden urgency to deal with police officer retention is political in nature, particularly with the mayor’s race now before us. To think that this proposal has nothing to do with mayoral aspirations and campaigns would be naïve, especially since this is the only proposal submitted by Councilmember Liccardo that was also accompanied by a very public Change.org petition.

And while political motivations and good policy are not necessarily mutually exclusive, it is very difficult to conclude that the motivations here are anything other than political when the grave concerns that I and other councilmembers have regularly expressed—city employee retention and public safety priorities—have routinely fallen on deaf ears for the last three years.

In order for us to get back to providing quality services to our residents and significantly reduce our pension costs, we need to start working with our employees to reduce their pension benefits and increase their contributions legally. Before we lose more officers, we should immediately suspend the additional payments required of our officers to pay for pension debt they did not create. If we do not suspend these payments, end the extraordinarily expensive lawsuits, and work together for a more realistic plan, our officers will soon be paying up to 16 percent of their pay just for the unfunded liability debt. If you were a police officer or firefighter facing a bill for a debt that you did not create, and it required 16 percent of your pay, how attractive would the promise of a 2.5-percent raise be?

There is no doubt that reversing this recent trend of police departures will not be easy, nor will it be inexpensive. The Reed-Liccardo plan only identifies a handful of potential funding sources, which is understandable, because finding sufficient funding to restore our bare-bones police department will be difficult. However, it would be easier to believe that the motivations for the Reed-Liccardo plan were not political if Councilmember Liccardo had been open to considering additional funding sources, as another councilmember and I suggested. Unfortunately, this suggestion was also rejected by Councilmember Liccardo.

To stem the tide of public safety departures, we don’t need politics, we need a plan. Unfortunately, the proposal offered by Reed and Liccardo falls short.

Ash Kalra is a councilmember for San Jose’s District 2.

31 Comments

  1. Excellent article.  Finally someone that can clearly articulate exactly what has happened and what is happening.  Thank you for explaining the disability part of Measure B.  I really don’t think that has been explained clearly until now.  It is a disgrace. Thank you for opening ours eyes to the political timing of Liccardo’s actions (However, even I can clearly see the motive).  Thank you for noting how this mismanagement has diminished safety for my family.  What is not clear is the financial cost that will be levied on the city (Tax payers) for this mismanagement.  How much more will it cost to hire and train new officers?  How much will it cost to retain these officers? How much has it cost the city to defend Measure B?  If any part of Measure B succeeds, how many more officers will look else where?

    Clearly the leadership in San Jose City Hall is lacking.  Clearly Liccardo is putting politics before the people.

  2. Uh oh, how do we pay for this? We obviously cannot cut spending, sell assets or make government more efficient. No, we need to “raise revenues” from the city’s hard-pressed residents. Watch for a sales tax increase on the 2014 ballot and prepare to bend over.

  3. Nice to hear a council person with common sense.  In one article I bet Mr. Karla improved the Morale of SJPD officers who feel like they have been attacked and blamed by Liccardo and Reed for the last four years.  Comments by Reed and Liccardo of calling the officers a cancer or that they are on a gravy train still do not sit well with them.  If the Liccardo Reed plan had an element that both would resign I bet the officers would hang around to see if new leadership would change the climate.

  4. Bravo Councilman Kalra for having the ba!!$ to stand up to the likes of Reed and Liccardo. Your explanation of the Liccardo plan, if you can call it a plan, is spot on. Additionally, your explanation of the effects of Measure B especially the disability portion could not have been better. No one in thier right mind would come to work for SJPD unless they could not get hired elsewhere or came for the training to lateral out to another agency at the expense of the City of San Jose. There was a time when the PD the the pick of the litter when it came to new hires now we will be stuck with those that no one else wants. Thank you for helping spread the word, now if only the voting population would be willing to take back these draconian measures that the minority of the eligible voters put in place.

  5. The real damage Liccardo, Constant, Oliverio, Herrera, Khamis, Reed, and Figone have done to the police department will really be seen when most of the recruits currently in the academy, and the first under the “tier 2” they created, soon go to other agencies that are just waiting for them to graduate. There are recruiters from other cities actively seeking those in the academy. San Jose will have spent millions of dollars with these recruits to train them for other police departments. This is the free market at work, but the above mentioned people think San Jose is in some sort of vacuum

  6. Councilmember Kaira does a good job summarizing the situation and his words are appreciated. Liccardo and Reed themselves must know that their supposed plan will do nothing to convince officers to stay. It is simply a cynical attempt to fool voters into thinking that Liccardo shares their concerns about public safety. He clearly doesn’t. As Kaira correctly notes, the plan appears to call for officer pay to reach 2009 levels by 2017. When the increased bill to officers for retirement is factored in, however, total compensation would still be far below 2009 levels. In fact, if Measure B were to take effect, 46 % of officers’ pay would be taken out of their checks for retirement-related costs by 2017.  Who could afford that? If Measure B does take effect, the current exodus will seem like nothing. Nearly every San Jose police officer will be looking elsewhere.

    I have seen firsthand the devastation Reed, Liccardo and their other allies have wrought within SJPD. For years within the halls of SJPD, you would here department leaders say that SJPD was the finest department in the country. The common belief among the rank and file was that the bold statement might actually be true. Whether it was true or not, it says everything about an organization when its own employees believe they might be the best. After all, SJPD was already a very lean department when San Jose held the title of safest big city in the United States. If a department leader tried to say that now, they’d be laughed at. We know better.

    There are still many, many outstanding men and women working for SJPD. Tragically, there just aren’t enough of them anymore. We simply don’t have enough resources to provide the service to which the city’s residents should be entitled. The results have been obvious and devastating, and the situation gets worth every month, as talented officers of all levels of experience walk out the door for better opportunities elsewhere. It used to be unheard of for officers to leave SJPD for other local police departments. It was officers from those departments who wanted to come here. Now, the situation is the complete opposite. No one comes. People only leave. Reed and Liccardo’s plan won’t do anything to change things, but I’m sure they know that. They just don’t care. Don’t be fooled.

  7. How unusual it is to see a San Jose Councilmember who has common sense .  I live in Blossom Valley and glad he is my representative.  Thanks for the insight Mr. Kalra!

  8. “…we don’t need politics, we need a plan…”

    Since we have not seen Mr. Kalra’s plan, we can guesstimate what Mr. Kalra’s plan might look like from his criticisms of Mr. Liccardo’s plan.  The key elements of Mr. Kalra’s undisclosed plan:

    > Increase of 400 officers in two years (1400 total)
    > Immediately restore the 10% pay cut
    > 2.5% raises for next two years
    > Suspend the additional payments to the pension fund

    Mr. Kalra now needs to show residents his budget numbers to make this plan a reality.

    • EZ Stieve D .  Use some of the millions the city has hidden in reserve accounts.  Are you really going to keep believing that only SJ has no money.  So all the other cities have recovered except SJ?  Maybe SJ owes 2.5 billion to state in RDA money.  See the Mayor wants you to think its a pension liability issue. The pension fund is healthy what is not is the city council and the RDA money.

      • Mr Smokey dont waste your effort on the city hall trolls. They all march to the same beat in that Reeds interpretation of pension reform is going to solve this mess. Ash is spot on and these people know it. The problem is you have these crooked corrupt politicians who are lining the pockets of their friends ie contractors, engineers and lawyers. They all have their hand held out waiting for the next big project “bid” although we know since Fig has decided to leave that in reality there is no bidding. Its all about friendships and favoritism and lining pockets. If the attorney general really looked into the shenanigans in SJ people would go to prison.As for pension reform the officers tried to make a plan that worked for everyone just like what occurred in SF, Santa Clara and many other local cities. No SJ is all about my way or the highway. People like SteveO are whats wrong with SJ. The citizens would be well served to steer clear of Liccardo or any of the current sitting candidates. The citizens of this city have shown themselves to be totally hoodwinked by Redd and the cartel. Yes Mr SteveO the current pension plan will drive away hundreds more in the next 2 years. Get a grip on reality just look at the FBI stats. You sir are a clueless City Hall bootlicker

        • Thereliableinformer:  How did my request for Mr. Kalra’s budget numbers make me a clueless City Hall bootlicker?  I do not work for city hall.  I am unimpressed by our entire city council including both Mr. Liccardo and Mr. Kalra.  Like most residents, I want to see a real plan to move the city forward.  If Mr. Kalra has that plan, why keep it a secret for so long?

  9. Thanbks Ash for the comments. The message needs to get out to the folks living in San jose. reed, Licardo and Consdtat care only about themselves and their political aspirations and not the well being of this City.

    Hey Pete I hope you run for Mayor so you can explain how you used your staff to clean your yard and and take your animals to the vet for treatment.

  10. Here is the ruling taken from the MEF website:

    “It is therefore ordered and adjudged that:
    l. Measure B cannot be applied to public employees working for the City on or before June 5,2012;

    2. the City was and is required to provide public employees with the retirement benefits and Plan in place when they began working for the City, as well as
    any enhancements made during their service with the City;

    3. the City is required to provide the retirement benefits delineated in the MOA;

    4. and, by the above-described actions and omissions, the City violated its obligations. On the City of San Jose’s Cross-Complaint for Declaratory Relief:

    1. The request for declaratory relief
    is DENIED and/or the Court finds that AFSCME shall have judgment entered in its favor on the City’s
    cross-complaint for the same reasons outlined above. Within 10 days after the filing of this Statement of Decision, AFSCME shall file a proposed injunction that prohibits enforcement of Measure B in accordance
    with this order.

    IT IS SO ORDERED.”

    The really sad part is that everybody, EVERYBODY told the mayor and council people that this measure was illegal and that it would not make it pass the courts. They were warned about the millions of dollars in taxpayer money that would be wasted trying to defend this illegal measure. Even other lawyers told the mayor, to include Council member Kalra. But the mayor was so stubborn and so arrogant that he moved forward, anyway and now has wasted millions and millions of taxpayer’s dollars, not even including the millions and millions that the recent audit found wasted. Taxpayers should be outraged. They now can see how the City administration wastes their money. Seems like they just throw it away. They may as well light a match to it. Try to figure out what those millions and millions and millions of dollars could have accomplished in bettering our city. That being said, I guess now the wait is on for the ruling on the rest of it.

  11. The problem is getting the word out to the low information voter who is consistently six months behind the rest of us.  If the POA and Local 230 don’t start a major campaign to reach the public in time, it may be too late and we will land up with Mayor Liccardo or Constant.

    • YOU HIT IT ON THE HEAD!!!!!!!!

      .001% read this, Mercury news will never print this, TV news not likely. Mayor will squash this, will not come up in council, rules committee will ignore it.

      Chucks way or the highway.

      Thanks Ash for saying the truth.  POA needs to jump on this!

  12. The San Jose Police Department has perennially had half the staffing of the national average for a city its size. At a savings of $150,000 per non existent officer per year, this equates to an approximate saving to the city of $150,000,000 per year. What has the city done with this annual savings each year? There should be a vast reserve of money somewhere. In order to restore the voluntary pay cut the officers gave back to the city to help in bad economic times would cost about $15 million dollars. To put this into perspective, since the voluntary 10% paycut, about 300 SJPD officers have left for other departments in the past few years, directly due to Liccardo, et al. This represent a loss to the city of about $45 million dollars worth of training, not to mention the vast collective knowledge of these officers to apprehend criminals for the citizens of San Jose. When the current class of 40 recruits in the academy leave, which they will due to compensation far below the industry standard and having no disability program if they get hurt at work, this will represent another loss to the city of about $6 million dollars. Liccardo’s plan is to offer the officer 2.5% a year for the next four years, in order to retain our officers. This will retain NOBODY. As this is written, there are many SJPD officers testing for other police departments, and many on the verge of getting hired by these other agencies. The city has the money to restore the 10% paycuts the officers voluntarily voted to give up. This is the only way to stop the bleeding of officers and retain officers. Otherwise, SJPD will continue to lose it’s best talent, and become a training ground for the new recruits who will get hired by other cities. Sam Liccardo can say he wants 200 cops, as I could say I want to cure cancer, but those are just empty words. Sam Liccardo has offered no viable plan to hire an additional 200 police officers, nor offered any meaningful measures on retaining the few officers left at the SJPD. Mouthing that Sam wants 200 officers means NOTHING.

    Lastly, thank you Mr. Kalra for pointing out the disability portion of Measure B. This was also pushed by Liccardo et al. All officers will inevitably eventually get hurt fighting with violent criminals, chasing and apprehending suspects, getting shot, stabbed, contracting a disease such as HIV or hepatitis through blood exposure, TB, bad backs and knees, loss of hearing, heart problems, skin cancer from suns exposure, mental issues, and a host of other injuries and illnesses directly job related. It is an ugly reality, but police work is a violent profession sometimes, and over a 30 year career, an officer will deal with many violent situations. To be clear, knowing there is a safety net is extremely important so an officer can go into a dangerous situation, knowing if he or she is permanently injured their family will still be financially cared for. It is in an officers nature and in their DNA to go INTO a dangerous situation. Make no mistake, if you take away this safety net, as Measure B has done thanks to Sam Liccardo et al, officers will be more reluctant to go into these volatile situations, knowing if they are permanently injured they will be unable to care for their family due to this mayor, Sam Liccardo, and most of the city council removing their workers comp safety net through their passage of Measure B. SJPD is the only agency in the state, if not the nation, to have such a draconian workers comp policy for its police officers, and it is a recipe for disaster. This workers comp police was pushed by Liccardo and company, and the only councilmember with the wisdom, strength and foresight to speak out against this was Mr. Kalra.

    Thanks Mr Kalra from the men and women of the SJPD for speaking up, and enduring the vitriolic comments and wrath of the mayor and city council.

  13. I really hope these officers and others who put their well being on the line to protect lives and property think twice before putting themselves in harms way. By nature public safety personnel want to help but they must now understand that this city could care less about you or your family. They ask you to be there when called upon although when you are injured and unable to continue your service they turn their back. You are just a number, so think hard before you put yourself in danger.

  14. Let’s examine the quote from Mr. Liccardo a little closer.

    “we made tough choices and difficult cuts because revenues fell…”
    —The fact is that making tough choices and difficult cuts was the job he took. Perhaps Mr. Liccardo would like voters to forget that prior to 2006—when Chuck Reed reported the Police/Fire pension fully funded*, SJPD: was 500 officers short of full staffing (according to testimony by the City’s handpicked police chief); lacked the manpower and funding to staff the just-completed Southside station; was still utilizing an outdated, inefficient records management technology; and was paying its officers less than half of what Chuck Reed said** was necessary to afford a home.

    “… and retirement obligations ballooned.”
    —Ballooned is the operative word. Common sense prevents most home buyers from avoiding contractual obligations subject to balloon payments, but not so our city leaders. The “retirement obligations” were of the city’s making; it was they who chose to play with fire. Managing revenues and obligations is what we hire and elect our leaders to do: they, not our city employees, failed us.

    “…employee unions like the San Jose Police Officer Association (POA) demanded that we continue to spend money we did not have to sustain retirement benefits.”
    —Now imagine Mr. Liccardo indignantly declaring that “financial institutions, such as those holding paper on our extravagant city hall, bloated airport, and redevelopment debt, demanded that we continue to spend money we did not have to honor our contracts.” No, Mr. Political Ambition is not about to claim anything so revolutionary as a right to dishonor obligations to powerful institutions. He was raised rich, so he fully understands that his fellow fat cats aren’t even listed in the Who’s Who of Who Can Be Fleeced.

    Obviously Sam Liccardo has signed on to Chuck Reed’s strategy of scapegoat politics. This is ambition trumping intellect and integrity. We don’t need another lawyer whose belief in contracts is based not on the code of law but on political expedience.

    * Posted on SJI by Chuck Reed, Sunday, January 22 at 06:54 PM
    “The answers are basically as follows:  San Jose is fully funded for retirement pension obligations.  There is an unfunded liability for health care benefits for retirees that must be calculated and booked starting in 2007 in order to comply with GASB standards.  The best guesstimate I have seen is a few hundred million dollars.  The actuaries are working on it.”
    Chuck

    ** April 20, 2009
    http://investorcentric.blogs.nuwireinvestor.com/2009/04/is-250000-year-really-wealthy.html
    San Jose, Calif., Mayor Chuck Reed calls a family living in Silicon Valley earning $250,000 “upper working class.” That is about what two engineers working at a technology firm can expect to make, but “a family earning $250,000 a year can’t buy a home in Silicon Valley,” he said.

  15. Ash,
    When will this all end? Our Officers are working under unhealthy and taxing circumstances. Doesn’t anyone on the 18th floor care about our Officers health and well being?