With Election Day closing in, San Jose’s political battles are whipping into a fever pitch. People are tightly wound, negative campaign mailers are rampant and the fight between pension reform proponents and the police union has come to a head.
Late last week, the Mercury News published an op-ed from a former police cadet who washed out of the academy, touching off an intense debate. The piece by Elyse Rivas says Jim Unland, president of the Police Officers Association, encouraged the class of 29 cadets during an orientation to drop out or leave the department, in part because it hurt the unions' fight against Mayor Chuck Reed's pension reforms.
“In no uncertain terms, he blamed Measure B for the departure of hundreds of officers—and he told us that it would be better for the department and for us if we would just quit, right then and there,” Rivas wrote. “He said that our employment did not help the POA’s cause in proving that Measure B was killing the department’s recruitment capabilities. He urged us to find jobs elsewhere. He told us all this as if he were doing us a favor.”
Unland firmly denied the charge on Monday. He says he never used the word "quit" in his talk with cadets. “To be clear, I never said that or anything like that,” he wrote in a blog post on the union's website.
In a follow-up article, Rivas admitted she doesn’t recall him using that exact term "quit," but the intent was the same.
San Jose Inside's attempts to reach Unland for comment were unsuccessful.
In his online post, Unland included statements from officers who countered Rivas’ claims. Two officers and the union's office manager, who says she has been present during all of Unland's presentations to cadets, claimed that the union president never told recruits to quit during that orientation. Another officer, Pat Comerford, says he spent "at least seven" extra hours trying to train Rivas to handle firearms safely. She failed the academy because she couldn’t master firearm safety—not because instructors didn’t try hard enough to train her, Comerford wrote.
Unland blamed the Merc’s support of Councilman Sam Liccardo instead of the union's chosen candidate, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, for “stooping so low as to print the ranting of a self-professed liar.”
The attention given to Rivas’ op-ed has not focused on her firearm proficiency, but her claim that Unland allegedly encouraged cadets to leave the force while in a department setting. If he were talking to cadets off the clock, away from the department and in his capacity as a union rep, he would be well within his rights to inform them what he feels is best for their future. It’s an important difference.
If cadets are in a work setting and a superior tells them they would be better off leaving, that would be completely inappropriate, according to Mayor Reed.
In past issues of the union's newsletter, Unland has explicitly told officers to find work at other agencies. The POA hosted a job fair last year, allowing other law enforcement agencies to come and recruit San Jose officers.
Just last November, Unland told San Jose Inside that the union was helping recruits find work elsewhere to take advantage of better benefits.
"Until three years ago, we’ve always been happily taking people trained in other cities,” Unland said at the time. “Now that it happens to us, the city says, ‘How dare these people?’”
The union has pointed to wage cuts and Measure B pension reforms, especially a change in disability requirements, as the reasons they have helped facilitate the shrinking of the department's ranks from 1,400 officers to fewer than 900.
Mayor Reed told the Merc that the city will investigate what exactly was said during that orientation.
Meanwhile, a new poll commissioned by the Merc has Cortese, who has also blamed pension reforms for the officer exodus, holding a lead over his opponent. The survey found 34 percent of respondents supported Cortese and 26 percent Liccardo. But a substantial amount of voters—40 percent—say they're still undecided.