Mayor Calls San Jose Police Recruiting Trip to Hawaii ‘Not a Good Use’ of Taxpayer Dollars

Eleven San Jose police officers boarded planes in May and flew to Hawaii in search of bodies. The goal of the trip, which lasted 11 days, was to attend two job fairs and bring back academy recruits—preferably smart, strong, honorably discharged vets—to provide a transfusion of new blood into one of the most beleaguered police departments in the country.

The trip garnered little scrutiny at the time, as logistics were cobbled together in less than two months. Nonetheless, SJPD’s three-person recruiting division reportedly reached out to a total of 884 prospects by phone and email ahead of time. Of the 11 SJPD officers to touch down in Oahu, three were sent out early to build a six-foot wall for an obstacle course to test applicants, while others came to the shores of Waikiki in waves over the course of two weeks. They stayed at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, located “just steps from the sparkling water and sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean,” according to the hotel’s website.

Lt. Heather Randol, who oversees San Jose’s recruitment division, says it was “not a vacation” but rather “a long and tiring trip.” SJPD had interviews scheduled with 89 people: three were disqualified ahead of time, seven withdrew and 29 “washed out,” failing to show up for their interviews. The remaining applicants completed at least one part of the hiring process.

But as of this week—the same week San Jose invoked an “emergency” declaration to sidestep labor restrictions to backfill police patrol assignments—the trip to Hawaii has resulted in just one recruit going through the background check process for October’s academy. Five others have tentatively signed on for next year’s three academies, but they too must pass a rigorous background check that results in less than 1 percent of applicants making the cut.

The total cost for these six maybes: $42,692 and change—not including overtime.

San Jose’s police academies can handle a maximum of 60 new recruits per cycle, but they have fallen far short of that number in recent years. The academy launched in June has just 18 cadets, which is better than the seven who advanced out of February’s class but still not enough to make up for unprecedented losses. Since 2012, SJPD has seen 292 officers resign and 198 retire, bringing the department’s street-ready officer total to 812—and leaving roughly 200 vacancies. Fewer than the minimum required 500 officers bid for patrol beats in the latest round of assignments this summer, pushing the city into an emergency situation.

It’s this depletion of staff—motivated by cuts to pay, pensions and disability protections over the last five years—that has similarly inspired a sense of desperation on the part of SJPD recruiters.

“We’re willing to try anything right now,” Randol says.

Anything, apparently, resulted in the Hawaii trip, which has worked very well for public safety departments like Sunnyvale’s, which requires officers to work as police, firefighters and EMTs but also offers better compensation and benefits than SJPD. While attending the same job fairs this spring in Hawaii, Sunnyvale hired 13 new officers after landing 12 last year, according to Chief Frank Grgurina.

“When you look at the number of people we get coming back, you can’t argue with the results,” he says.

The same can hardly be said for San Jose. The expense of the Hawaii trip accounts for nearly a seventh of SJPD’s annual $350,000 recruiting budget, which has raised concerns that SJPD has not been wisely allocating its resources for recruiting.

“I’m no expert when it comes to police recruiting, but I would not have used public dollars for a recruiting trip to Hawaii,” says San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. “Based on the numbers we see today, it was not a good use of the public dollars.”

Another issue that has come under scrutiny is the department’s marketing decisions, which to date are being decided by officers who have training in variety of law enforcement methods, of which advertising is not one.

“I made that point very clear publicly, when the city audit came to the City Council months ago,” Liccardo says. “I emphasized the importance of having civilian expertise in marketing and outreach strategies.”

San Jose Police Chief Chief Eddie Garcia, who asked the mayor and council to declare an emergency to rebid assignments and make up for the lack of officers on patrol, said an outside marketing agency is expected to soon help the department. He admits, however, that “we’re not a quality employer, so we struggle with recruiting.” (After the publication of this story, Chief Garcia clarified that SJPD is not a “competitive” employer.Editor)

The hope among elected officials and department brass is that Measure F—the November ballot measure to finalize a settlement on Measure B pension reforms—will allow the department to gain some certainty for the future.

“We have to cast a wide net,” Garcia says. “I’m not saying [the Hawaii trip] was or wasn’t successful, but we will look at this trip and see which are more fruitful than others.”

He adds, “You miss every shot you don’t take.”

The risk-reward factor is certainly something to consider. Sunnyvale took just one less person than SJPD’s contingent to Hawaii—10 total; eight sworn officers and two civilian staffers—but sustained a presence for more than three weeks. During this time, Sunnyvale officers cycled in and out to conduct written, oral and agility tests, initial psychological screenings and complete background checks. The trip took more than twice as long as San Jose’s effort, at a cost of $180,000 to $190,000, according to Deputy Chief Dayton Pang.

Another big difference, according to records obtained through a Public Records Act request, is planning: SJPD recruiters decided to attend the Hawaii trip based on a March 12 email from an outside source whose name was redacted from the email. SJPD did not clarify who sent this message less than two months prior to the job fairs. By comparison, Sunnyvale’s department says it began planning for its trip in December 2015.

Lt. Randol, who took over SJPD recruitment in December and Chief Garcia calls the “future of this police department,” says the trip to Hawaii can’t be fully judged until more follow-up is conducted. Unlike Sunnyvale, San Jose’s trip was just an introduction to a market that has a similarly high cost of living to Silicon Valley but a much lower median income.

“Now that we’ve gone out there we’ve established ourselves,” Randol says. However, she adds, there is no current plan for San Jose officers to return to Hawaii in the near future.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

49 Comments

  1. Could San Jose partner with Sunnyvale and share the resulting pool of applicants? Sunnyvale, with a good working model, would get more shoulders at the wheel. San Jose would get to learn first hand how a successful organization is doing it. A broader pool could be interviewed with more folks involved and candidates that are a better suited to the PD/FD/EMT model of Sunnyvale can focus there and those strictly looking for PD work can focus on SJ.

    • No disrespect, but Sunnyvale makes $40k more a year, without any overtime, than SJ Officers. San Jose PD recruiting could be the best in the world, but like everything else, recruits will go elsewhere.

      • Thanks for the info. Sunnyvale may not be the best benchmark due to their double duty (law enforcement and fire). By all accounts, Sunnyvale residents get a bargain, but one we’re not likely to adopt.

        SJ’s stated policy (per Debra Figone during arbitration hearings) was to be in the 50th percentile of bay area PD compensation. It’s not clear to me that we are achieving that objective.

        Any insight as to how we compare to Oakland and SF, maybe LA and SD though their housings costs are lower?

        • Sunnyvale also has 2 persons per fire apparatus, and no paramedics. The PD is expected to respond with the FD in order to cover the missing positions. Good luck flying with that in San Jose.

      • Sunnyvale pays its cops/firefighters $40k more than SJ. Sunnyvale has better roads than SJ. Permitting and building are far easier and faster than in SJ. We need to find out what Sunnyvale is doing right that SJ is doing wrong. Why do they have money for roads and SJ does not? Locate all the money going down the rat hole in SJ and plug the hole. Why do most of the homeless and the whackos come to SJ and not to Sunnyvale? Downtown Sunnyvale is no Shangrila, but it’s not the Skid Row that DT SJ is. Instead of sending cops to Hawaii and council members on junkets to everywhere at great expense to learn how other cities do things, just send them all to study in Sunnyvale; no air fare, no hotel bill, no per diem.

          • Exactamundo Tyler! You get a gold star! And what is the response by Liccardo and the SJ City Council? Build more housing for the homeless, who pay no taxes and suck up gazillions of public employee hours and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. I guess they never heard or understood the aphorism ” if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging.”

        • Sunnyvale has a professional staff which the city council defers to for their expertise. Their city council and Mayor only get a stipend. San Jose is made up of 10 fiefdoms with 10 mini mayors, some good and some not, getting $150k a year with their benefits. Why is our city in a mess? Part of the reason, in my opinion, are council-members making decisions of great importance in subjects they have little knowledge, and ignoring the expertise of the city staff. I hear what comes out of the mouth of Luigi and Khamis regarding police work, and know they don’t have a clue what the average beat cop deals with or how our department is run, yet they are making critical decisions. Now if you extrapolate that formula onto the entire city council and mayor, there are innumerable critical decisions that have been made by council-members that had little working knowledge of the intricacies of the subject matter, thus bad decisions with predictably bad outcomes.

  2. Idiots! Try recruiting in a place like Detroit or anywhere winter temps drop below freezing and the economy sucks.

  3. “Come to SJPD, where the compensation package is the lowest in the Bay Area, you have the specter of Measure B hanging over your head, and you will have a minimum 2-3 hour commute'” You can have a thousand recruiters and the best PR firm in the world and the results will be the same. Word of mouth is the most powerful recruiting tool, and few SJPD officers can honestly encourage people to come here.The answer is simple, but the city simply does not want to fix the actual problems. Nothing the chief or recruiting can do about that. You can thank folks like Johnny Khamis and Pierluigi Oliverio for what has happened to SJPD.

    • If there’s nothing the chief or recruiting team can do, then why book the trip to Hawaii?

      • I do not know, perhaps desperation. The fruits of this trip were very predictable though.

  4. Lt. Randol deserves an award for “Outstanding Achievement in Inviting Criticism.” Under a mandate of belt-tightening, that Hawaii even came to mind should be viewed as a signal of cognitive distress. But where on this does the buck really stop? No way this did not get approved up the ranks. Taxpayers deserve to know how far up it got, if only so they can match the big salary with the low brow.

    That said, when the task is attracting young police wannabes to come to your city to work for wages inadequate for the area’s cost of living, all recruiting ideas are open to criticism. San Jose PD is the ugly fat girl at the police recruiting dance — desperate and willing to try anything. She’ll flash some cleavage, lower her standards, make the first move, and maybe even humiliate herself with her selections. I fear what it is she might bring home to the family.

    Mayor Liccardo, in leveling his own criticism, admitted he’s no expert in police recruiting. That’s a laugh. This moron, who ignored his lack of expertise back when he was ruining the police department, is himself, along with Chuck Reed, responsible for Lt. Randol’s impossible predicament. Instead of criticism, he should be offering her his apologies.

  5. You have to lead by example Mr Liccardo. You can’t say, “I need to fly to Amsterdam to look at Bicycle lanes” or “I need to fly to Ireland to be with our sister city”

    This is atypical behavior in startups when the burn rate has gone beyond revenue, and everyone knows they better grab what they can before the whole thing collapses in bankrupcy. One memorable startup I worked in, all of the employees were asked by the CEO to “Work for free for a month so we could secure funding” and every employee walked out that day, with as many laptops and high priced items as they could carry.

    • Amen, this city council flies to hole in the world for vacations and claims it is for business. BS! At least the PD is trying to recruit new officers. Hell of a lot more than the council is trying to do. If measure F fails the city will have no choice but to transition to the some other department because SJPD will only have about 500 officers. Good bye San Jose as one of the best law enforcement departments in the nation, you cannot even respond to priority 2 calls. Hey Pete Constant take your so called disability retirement and stick it since you are trying to do the same to SJ. Don’t understand why you get your 50% tax free retirement the PD plus your council retirement and you are still pissed off at the PD. You were a lazy officer, worthless on the council and now you sit on a worthless BS committee to sue whatever.

  6. Probably not. The hiring process tries to drill down very quickly to only those candidates that are actually viable hires, because of the huge cost to vet and train a new public safety officer. There’s a very low acceptance rate from any candidate pool for both departments. And the characteristic of a good candidate for a public safety model like Sunnyvale’s are radically different from that of a conventional police department. We might be able to give San Jose our overall process and let them modify it to meet their needs and run it themselves. But sharing the actual recruitment doesn’t seem viable. You’d have two departments involved, each of which is going through the recruitment process telling candidates “no, don’t go with them, go with us instead”, which just wouldn’t work.

  7. San Jose spokesman Dave Vossbrink claimed a few years ago that each SJPD officer costs $200,000 to staff. This was around the time that 40-45 were enrolled in the academy. Burdened costs include recruitment, background check, salary, and academy operation costs. Given that many are fixed costs, I’d imagine that the SJPD startup staffing costs are appreciably higher given the low academy graduation rate.

    ‘Liccardo says. “I emphasized the importance of having civilian expertise in marketing and outreach strategies.” ‘

    Maybe. But isn’t it obvious to ask potential recruits why they avoid SJPD? And to conduct climate surveys? Organizations much smaller than SJ’s 5,600 employee headcount routinely do this. But we don’t as I discovered when HR was asked for a copy last year. They also advised that SJPD and CSJ’s HR departments operate as silos.

    Reminiscent Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there” Baffling why Mayor Liccardo, City Manager Duenas, and Chief Garcia fail to remedy this and suggests poor management.

  8. Does Josh recall editorializing for Measure B? Fully supporting gReed, Lie-car-doh et al since 2011…

    Since when is it ethical to create a disaster and then gloat about how disasterous it is? As a business that profits from creating news (with or without truth or accuracy) where does your journalistic integrity come into play? I’m asking because I’ve never seen an apology or mea culpa from the local politicians or journalists for most of lies that get printed in the media.

  9. Yes Josh has been a big cheerleader for Measure B just as the rest of the council and mayor. Oh and lets not forget our good friend Matt Mahood of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce! Folks the damage is done. This mess was foreseen by hundreds of cops and ignored by politicians and a small percentage of voters. Good job San Jose.

  10. ““Now that we’ve gone out there we’ve established ourselves,” Randol says. However, she adds, there is no current plan for San Jose officers to return to Hawaii in the near future.” Two sentences, two completely antithetical concepts.

  11. “I’m no expert when it comes to police recruiting…”

    Sounds like the words of a one-term mayor without a clue how to solve SJPD’s staffing emergency. Mr. Liccardo is obviously not an expert in pension reform either with all the destruction his bad decisions have caused SJPD.

    • And yet the inept san jose voter will overwhelmingly vote him in again!

      • The fact that most voters are only smart enough to know to vote for the one who promises the most free stuff explains a lot about the situation this city and this nation are in.

      • Because most are idiots, surprised they even register to vote. Look at how many even vote compared to 1 million in SJ. My money is on voters will vote down measure F, and Pete Constant will suck up his 50% tax free disability pension along with his double dipping council retirement. San Jose you get what you vote for, good luck. Don’t study the facts and vote like an, well never mind. Enjoy an increase in crime and no one to come when you call 911.

    • I’m stunned that Liccardo has not revisited the book that he authored, in which, before the election he claimed offered his solution to the police staffing problem. It’s way past time to offer that solution, unless it was to call the Sheriffs office.

        • I believe Smith did say YES to a SJC law enforcement bid, then SJPD significantly lowered its bid to match the SO’s. I believe the airport, school crossing guard program, truancy, and card room monitoring total about 20 FTE officers. The figures are based on data that’s several years old. If about right, then at $200,000 ea, they collectively represent a $4 million asset SJPD is not using for essential services and also driving up OT costs.

          Not sure if we still have a bomb squad (the SO is better equipped), a drone squad, or some other functions of dubious value.

          Then there’s special event policing (like the upcoming Turkey Trot run) that virtually requires SJPD staffing instead of allowing competitive bids. Not sure how many more duties can be picked up by community service officers, but looks like there are a few belt-tightening options before the national guard is called up or we contract with surrounding PDs for help.

          The next 18 months or so are very worrisome. As I understand it, SJP’s onboarding process takes at least 12 months. Assuming an academy class can be magically filled tomorrow, then we’re still facing a severe personnel situation. Still amazing what SJPD accomplishes in spite of the personnel shortage. The Cruz Control bust is the latest example.

          • “Assuming an academy class can be magically filled tomorrow…”

            Even if the magic were to somehow happen, there seems to be no way to stop the disappearing act. I understand that two graduates of SJ’s most recent academy class of eight recruits have already left for Gilroy PD.

          • Thanks, Finfan. As you correctly point out, the situation is much more grave. We have a significant number of wash-outs, low first year retention rates, and on-going attrition of experienced officers. AFAIK, no one has identified what will stem the tide, what to rebuild the force, how long will it take, and what it will cost. Nor published how we rank to comparable departments and what explains the difference.

            Measure F may be necessary, but far from clear it’s sufficient. I’m not aware that SJPD or city officials have identified a ‘get well’ plan or data to suggest it will work. Chief Garcia appears to guide our police force by superstition, not scientific management principles.

            Will really appreciate evidence to the contrary. I want to have faith in the mayor and chief, but it’s elusive so far.

          • Taxpayer,

            Unfortunately, its going to shock people when they see what is needed to bring San Jose back to competitiveness. Just as it shocked all of us as to what was DONE to the Fire and Police Departments, its going to shock YOU as to how much we have truly lost as employees of the City.

            1) Immediately re-instate the 10.5% reduction in base pay we took in one hit.
            2) Immediately bring us back to where we WOULD have been had negotiations been in good faith.
            3) Eliminate Tier 2, keep Tier 1 whole and complete
            4) Return our lost Vacation and sick days
            5) Reduce what we pay into our Medical (its the same, if not more, than the general public)
            6) Stop the disability obfuscation and runaround when our personnel are injured
            7) Abolish measure V and W (remember those?)
            8) Formal injunction barring Pete Constant from speaking at ANY San Jose event, meeting,etc.
            9) Improve the awareness and education of the citizens, to understand that their votes have serious consequences when they have been manipulated by shysters and liars like Chuck Reed, Sam Liccardo, Johnny Khamis and Pierlouigi.

            Partial list, but I am sure I can think of many more. I am sure you will disagree, but the question was raised….here is my 2 cents.

          • Thanks for a thoughtful response though surprised at the assumption of my disagreement. I don’t have any particular insight into a ‘get well’ plan, nor a basis to dispute your recommendations.

            My heartburn is that no one else seems to either. As another reader posted (and was separately advised too), SJPD lacks a formal exit interview process and anonymous climate survey input. Command staff apparently lacks a mechanism to assess their management effectiveness or address SJPD’s most vital resource: employees.

            I do have trouble accepting that SJPD compensation is at the 50th percentile of bay area PDs (as former city manager Figone claimed*). In light of our low officer retainment and recruitment figures, it’s tough to rationalize. Many private employers have similar compensation guidelines, yet they’re able to attract and retain a skilled workforce. What prevents SJPD leadership from employing sound management practices? The cost for both is much less than the Hawaiian recruiting boondoggle. Baffling.

            * at that time, SJ’s budget analyst claimed meeting POA’s compensation goal would add another $20 million per year to SJPD’s operating cost.

          • Excellent points. Let me try to shed some light as to WHY the morale is so low here. For example, the SJPD and the SJFD no longer hire their own. The City has much more to do with what a “qualified” candidate is, and seem to know better as to who would make a good Police Officer or Firefighter. They have limited input.

            Firefighter only:

            We do not have a panel of 3 Officers interviewing candidates anymore. We have 1 civilian (chosen who knows how), 1 City Employee from HR, and one Firefighter who cannot identify themselves by wearing a uniform, or insignia. We are guessing that the City thinks it might “intimidate” the candidate. Is that who you want fighting a fire at your house at 2 in the morning? Or prying you or a loved one out of a car on the freeway? Or facing down a violent criminal?

            The start of healing, is for the community and the media to support us. We have been pilloried and beaten in the public plaza for years. The San Jose Mercury News did more damage to the City than any other publication or media outlet could have possibly done. They agreed with everything Chuck Reed spouted, and printed hateful, false, and damaging opinions and articles. They still do to this day.

            There is more to job satisfaction than pay. respect and support for Public Safety goes a long way, as hypocrites and haters like Johnny Khamis, Pierluigi and Liccardo only continue to damage the connection, not heal it. These are the very people responsible for supporting and enacting Chuck Reeds psychotic notion that you can treat your servants like garbage, and expect them to be as loyal as the day you hired them. This goes against human nature. Make no mistake. We show up, and do our jobs as well as we have ever done them…..but now we just want to go home and be done with the shift. And, in some cases, the farther away, the better.

            Its good to see some of the people who were the most vocal opponents of the Fire and Police Departments realizing that a mistake and lack of judgement was made. You would be astounded as to how far an apology will go, and how fast the loyalty will come back if the items in my last post, and the attitudes of the City change.

          • As a side note….yes, there are people who have a solution. The Unions have been telling the Citizenry AND the City that this would be the result all along. The assumption is that these people are Union “Bosses”. That is the biggest lie perpetrated on the citizens of San Jose. These Union Leaders are Captains, Engineers and Firefighters, and Officers who work the line every day. They are also Mothers, Fathers, Sons and Daughters of several generations of San Jose residents. And they are only interested in what is fair…and keeping you and your loved ones safe. They never deserved what has happened to them, but they are very forgiving…when mistakes have been admitted and corrected.

        • You missed the sarcasm Toby. It’s past time for Liccardo to offer his solution….unless it was to call the SO…that may have been his big plan. That clear now?

  12. Why don’t those”in charge” go to the current officers and ASK what is needed to attract recruits and remedy this problem? The current officers know. Then make it happen!!! SMH. Makes much more sense than asking non-officers to make these decisions. San Jose was one of the safest big cities in the U.S. not too many years ago. Now the city is crap due to SJPD losing officers and increasing crime rates. At this point I’ll never consider moving back to SJ until the PD is solid again.

    • Because we have those on the city council who would rather point the finger at the police recruiters rather than address the real issue of compensation. You are correct that the current officers not only know, but told the city council 4 years ago that the situation would come to this. Frankly,few on the city council or our mayor really care to hear what the current officers have to say. They don’t even bother doing exit interviews as to why officers have left.

      • I think it’s time San Jose started hiring H1b Cops, this will quickly catch on lowering compensation to public workers all over, thus making SJDP pay more attractive.

  13. $42K in expenses not including OT….how much did the OT/staff time cost? 11 officers for 11 days. That’s got to be another $50-100K. Were they officers or Sergeants and the Lt? How much did they make? What other Cities have they gone to? What City is next? Clearly their plan isn’t working. Why waste money on recruiting when it doesn’t work? You should ask for all their expenses this year, including staff costs. This article is only a small part of the story. You need to dig deeper.

  14. > 8) Formal injunction barring Pete Constant from speaking at ANY San Jose event, meeting,etc.

    BOHICA:

    You have reminded me of an important provision that I would like to propose that would improve the City’s minimum wage.

    “In the City of San Jose, and for any resident of San Jose providing speeches outside of San Jose, the MINIMUM fee for a paid speech to any public or private audience shall be $250,000″.

    This will benefit low wage workers in San Jose immensely and allow them to provide a decent living for their families.

    It will also make the pay scale for public speakers much fairer. No longer will companies like Goldman Sachs be allowed to discriminate against speakers from San Jose who have NEVER been paid $250,000 for a speech. It’s time to end Goldman Sachs geographical discrimination.

  15. The Santa Clara Grand Jury should investigate the San Jose City Council and Mayor as to their malfeasance in squandering precious public safety resources and their direct cause in creating this very dire and predictable staffing crisis at the SJPD.

  16. boondoogle in a time of scarcity.
    Sunnyvale just recently restored motorcycle traffic enforcement. t here is plenty of overtime there, too. A few years ago, officers were paid $250,000 with overtime. The local Sun newspaper printed the positions in city government that were paid the most.
    And, they constantly raise fees to Sunnyvale residents without any increased benefit to them. It is death by a thousand cuts to retirees.
    It is time for people to accept responsibility for policing themselves. An inordinate amount of money goes to law enforcement.

  17. Let’s hope a quick check of Lt. Heather Randol’s tan lines convinces even the most ardent skeptic that the boondoggle to Hawaii was entirely worthwhile.

    • That was entirely inappropriate, disrespectful and sexist. Way to objectify one of the people who may have to put her life in the line to keep you safe.