As departures continue to outpace new hires, a new audit directs the San Jose Police Department to invest more in marketing, expand its recruiting unit and change some requirements to broaden the pool of applicants.
In the past few years, as the city and its public safety unions sparred over pension reform, San Jose has seen a steady rise in vacancies, now at a historic high of 21 percent. The actual number of vacant police officer positions—out of a total of 871—grew from 40 in 2012 to 181 this summer.
“This more than quadruples the number of police officer positions for which the department must recruit,” according to a report by city auditor Sharon Erickson, which comes up for review at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
This year, the city plans to graduate three academies, which it has struggled to fill even after a deal that restored pay and dialed back some controversial pension cuts.
The target number for each class is 48 recruits, but each round brings a new record low. Only 13 cadets signed on to the academy this month, while even fewer are expected to make it to graduation.
According to Erickson, San Jose is not alone in its struggle to fill the ranks.
In 2008, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, police agencies nationwide hired about 61,000 officers but lost 51,000 through resignations (54 percent), non-medical retirements (23 percent), dismissals (10 percent), probationary rejections (5 percent) and disability retirements (5 percent).
While increased demand and federal funding expanded police agencies in the late 1990s, the trend reversed in the decade to follow. Erickson cited a recent ABC News report that found a 90 percent drop in the number of applicants in some cities.
“While public safety departments face some of the same problems other employers do with U.S. unemployment at a 30-year low, police recruiters are additionally stymied by the job’s low pay, tarnished image, increasingly tougher standards for new recruits and limited job flexibility.”
Erickson said the SJPD should expand its recruiting unit, spend more on advertising and come up with a way to analyze which recruitment events have the highest yield of qualified candidates.
Compared to other cities, San Jose has relatively few recruiters, the audit found. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has four full-time recruiters to fill 175 vacancies this year. By contrast, SJPD employs three full-time recruiters to fill 200 sworn vacancies.
San Jose recruiters also told auditors that they lack basic tools, including tablets to allow people to apply online at career fairs. Erickson recommended hiring more civilian staffers to help recruiters.
The audit also found that the SJPD didn’t make the most of its marketing budget. A $270,000 contract with an outside communications firm was only half used by the end of this past fiscal year. Because of a lack of communication, several tasks were left unfinished, advertising lapsed for a few months and a recruiting website that should have been finished was never built.
Some of that money should have paid for efforts to market the agency to a more diverse pool of applicants, according to the report. While Asian Americans make up about 32 percent of San Jose’s population, they comprise just 15 percent of SJPD’s sworn staff. A similar ratio exists for Latinos, who make up 33 percent of the city population but comprise just 24 percent of the agency’s sworn officers.
The agency could also tweak its requirements to accommodate more military veterans, the report said. Waiving college credits for relevant military experience could open the doors to more applicants.
One of the biggest hurdles for San Jose, however, is that net compensation doesn’t stack up to that of other Bay Area law enforcement agencies. Many officers leaving San Jose have taken jobs at nearby agencies.
“San Jose Police Department staff expressed concern that San Jose’s reputation as a top-choice employers has declined due to a variety of reasons, including take-home pay,” Erickson reported. “Internally, department staff members report that they face low morale. This can affect potential future candidates and retention of recruits. … In our opinion, the City needs to actively address morale and pay issues within the police department.”
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for October 6, 2015:
- Both of the city’s casinos have seen a decline in calls for police service this past year, according to an annual San Jose Police Department report of cardroom activity. Bay 101 had 224 calls for service this past year—down from 265 in 2012 and 243 in 2013—nine of which ended in an arrest and only one that was considered a gambling-related crime. Calls for service at Casino M8trix dropped from 235 in 2012, to 231 in 2013, and 215 in this past year.
- The city issued a series of warnings to Casino M8trix over permitting issues and other regulatory violations. The cardroom paid a $620,000 fine for allowing an unlicensed marketing consultant to execute contracts and control gaming activities, in violation of city rules. The casino also had to install new surveillance cameras to allow the city’s Division of Gaming Control to observe the cardroom operations. The casino also ran afoul of state law by lying about profits to avoid tax liabilities and charitable contributions. The California Bureau of Gambling Control reached a settlement with the owners, while a related commission is still deciding whether to revoke the license of one of the stockowners.
- San Jose wants to ditch its beleaguered ambulance provider, Rural Metro, and possibly take over emergency transport for all of Santa Clara County. Another option proposed would have the San Jose Fire Department team up with a more financially stable private ambulance company. Mayor Sam Liccardo said a regional public-private approach would provide higher quality and more cost-effective service. Basically anything, he said, would be an improvement over Rural Metro. “Through the duration of Santa Clara [County]’s contract with Rural Metro, the company has declared bankruptcy, required an infusion of county funding, failed to obtain proper CPR certifications for employees, lost permits to transfer patients between medical facilities and continued subpar response time for several communities,” he wrote in a memo.
- After a series of high-profile break-ins, the Mineta San Jose International Airport will erect a wire fence. The city had to put the project out to bid a second time after deciding to switch from welded wire to a sturdier one-inch chain link fence.
- Fewer people are playing golf, which has led to a drop in revenue at the city’s three golf courses: Los Lagos, Rancho del Pueblo and Muni. The courses, which are supposed to be self-sustaining, required a subsidy this year of $2.6 million, according to a new audit. Unless the city wants to keep shelling out cash to cover those operating losses, it’s going to have to sell land to pay off some of its debt or figure out ways to lure more people by converting some of the courses to softball, soccer or baseball fields.
- With the city ready to renew its lease on a police vehicle and evidence warehouse for $2.2 million over the next three years, Mayor Liccardo has suggested actually buying the place to save money in the log run.
- More businesses have expressed an interest in working with the city to create more of those curb cafes that have been cropping up around downtown and Willow Glen.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260