Despite the recent violent crimes, we are still a very safe city. However, I think it is fair to ask if we are safe enough. Many would say “no.” When three murders happen over one night; when four knifings happen within a couple of blocks downtown; when more and more people are concerned about the use of police resources in central San Jose; when our murders in one weekend approach Oakland’s, then it is time to carefully monitor the crime situation and make the correct assessments.
We are on a pace to exceed the 33 homicides of last year. Oakland already has 90 this year and San Jose has a “mere” 26, unless it is a family member or friend, and then it is everything—the universe!
There has been an ongoing debate on the council about the number of officers to be hired. The question is intimately connected to the more troubling question about how much money will be paid to the police—there is an increasingly acrimonious debate about this subject and the impending binding arbitration between the mayor and the police union—and how large a force we can afford. Of course, the ace in the hole for the police union is the “independent” arbitrator that is part of our city charter and can award a contract that theoretically could shut libraries and abandon parks. For the record, I opposed it, along with Janet Gray Hayes, as every other council person supported it. It is a sad commentary on the abdication of responsibility by elected officials and the surrender to an unelected, unaccountable lawyer type. It is sad and unfortunate, but true.
The violence this past weekend was tragically almost on par with Oakland, the Bay Area’s most crime-plagued city. In July, Oakland gained national attention after a grisly spate of seven killings in two days. We are not there and I trust never will be, but we must be concerned.
I have spoken to many officers on the streets in the past few days and they express two strands of opinion. First, they are happy and proud of their department and pleased with the professionalism that has cleared so many cases and apprehended the shooters and stabbers of the latest outrages. But they are very concerned with the spiral of violence in the city and the coarsening of our neighborhoods and the disproportionate number of violent crimes in some of the poorest neighborhoods downtown and in the east side and south San Jose. This worries them and it should worry all of us.
There is a fundamental reckoning due on how we police our city and how we apportion resources in an increasingly difficult financial climate. We must make the best decisions now—calmly, but with a full knowledge that we are on an increasingly slippery slope.