Nearly half of the San Jose Police Academy’s new graduating class plans to leave for other departments, according to union leaders. And until the city offers a better disability plan to new police recruits, the Police Officers Association (POA) says it will continue encouraging cadets to find work elsewhere.
“Until the disability pension is fixed, it seems unethical to ask them to stay,” says Jim Unland, POA president. “How can you ethically expect someone to do police work if they’re seriously injured and we don’t have their back?”
Unland says at least 17 of the 40 cadets in the latest graduating class have already sought work in Hayward, Oakland, Stockton and other cities.
“I suspect there’s more,” he says. “I can’t blame them. It’s the second-tier pension, specifically the disability component. If the officer is seriously hurt, under that plan, that officer could find themselves unable to support themselves and their family.”
The city spends $170,000 to hire and train cadets, according to city spokesman David Vossbrink. He couldn’t confirm the 17 figure because the city only finds out about recruits applying for other agencies when they get a request for a background check. But if that many cadets jump ship, it would mean the city wasted $2.89 million to train them.
“We are aware of at least one officer taking another job and five are in the pipeline to be backgrounded,” Vossbrink says. “We certainly are not fond of the notion of training recruits for other departments.”
Some of those job-seeking cadets found leads at a job fair hosted in August by the POA, Unland says. Plus, recruiters who were reaching out to active officers were put in touch with just-graduated cadets.
One of the changes brought on by Measure B‘s passage last year is seriously injured officers who are not yet eligible for retirement are required to apply for a civilianized job in the department before qualifying for disability. If there is no job the officer can do in the department because of their disability, only then will they begin receiving disability retirement. Unland calls it one of the most restrictive policies in the state.
For the past two years, the city’s lost about 100 officers a year. , As a result, sworn staff has shrunk from 1,400 to a little more than 1,000.
Unland says the POA shouldn’t be blamed for the continued exodus of officers, even if the union is encouraging people to leave.
“It’s not the POA’s fault,” he says. “It’s the second-tier pension plan that can leave these guys high and dry if they’re hurt.”
Despite the exodus, the city hasn’t officially considered establishing an agreement with academy recruits that would require them to stay for a defined period of time after they graduate.
“Some other cities have done it,” Vossbrink says. “But I’m not aware of whether San Jose will do anything about that.”
In addition to encouraging new cadets to find work elsewhere, the union recently urged retired members to ignore the city’s job offers to ex-officer. The city wants trained professionals to perform background checks on new hires. Last year, the city hired two outside firms to form contracts with ex-officers to do the work. Now the city will directly contract out that work with retired SJPD officers.
Unland called the program a “breach in trust, brotherhood and solidarity.”
“With every outsourced position, an active officer is bumped,” he wrote in a message to union members.
Alex Gurza, a deputy city manager and lead negotiator for the city, countered that statement in a letter to Unland, asserting that the POA’s alert contained “inaccuracies and misinformation.”
“In order to reduce costs and achieve efficiencies, the Department plans to hire retired San Jose Police Officers directly in temporary non-sworn employee classifications,” Gurza wrote. “This will not result in layoffs or bumping of any active police officers, as you incorrectly indicated in your membership alert and will continue to allow us to have more Police Officers on the street. This new process will not supplant or civilianize any existing authorized positions in the Police Department. Current staffing levels will not allow the Police Department to utilize sworn personnel to conduct background investigations as done in the past.”
Gurza adds that hiring retired San Jose cops as consultants was an effort to keep more officers on patrol instead of bogging them down with administrative work.
“We also want to be clear that there is no intent to ‘manipulate and divide’ as you indicated in your alert,” Gurza wrote. “The police department’s intent is to have as many police officers as possible on patrol and not performing functions that could otherwise be performed by non-sworn employees. Your intent to undermine this goal by telling retired police officers not to sign up for these positions is apparent in your email.”