San Jose Police Contract Dispute Boils Over into Mayoral Campaign

This story has been updated, 3:45pm Aug. 15.

San Jose city officials and the city police officers’ union have gone public with their contract dispute.

While the San Jose Police Officers Association claims response times are growing and predicted a “mass exodus” of officers because of pay and working conditions, the city, led by Mayor Sam Liccardo, counters that the department has the lowest vacancy rate in a decade, and its officers’ salaries are among the highest in the Bay Area.

In case it wasn't already, the police contract became a full-blown campaign issue this week in the San Jose mayoral campaign. In an op-ed today in San Jose Inside, Liccardo came out swinging against not only the aggressive public campaign by the police officers' union–but also one of the union's top supporters, mayoral candidate and County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

In his op-ed, Liccardo wrote: "County Supervisor Chavez’s focus on purported staffing SJPD shortfalls seems ironic,  given the multiple reports about far more substantial understaffing at her own County Sheriff’s Department."

Liccardo, who has helped raise $24,000 in contributions for Chavez' opponent, Matt Mahan, has not yet made an endorsement in the race. Liccardo is termed out and not eligible to seek re-election.

“A San José Police officer’s average annual salary, including overtime, exceeds $189,000, the third highest among the Bay Area’s 17 largest police departments,” said Liccardo in a statement last week. “That’s why we have been successful in expanding SJPD’s ranks by more than 220 officers since 2017, and we have the lowest vacancy rate (2.6%) in a decade.”

A recent survey of city police officers released by the union showed that heavy workloads and low morale “are pushing nearly one in every five sworn officers to consider retiring early or leaving the agency.,” the union said in a statement.

The union argues that city data masks the number of officers actually available for street duty, and many who are working well beyond their slated hours: “The police department is held together with duct tape and overtime,” the union said.

The survey results also show that 93.6% of 645 officers who responded described the department’s 911 response as inadequate. Within that respondent pool, 53.8% reported having to wait lengthy periods before backup officers could join them, according to the union.

“The police union is doing its job advocating for its members amid contract negotiations, but it’s the city’s job to stand up for our residents, and to attract and retain officers, with good wages without capitulating to union demands that our taxpayers cannot afford – as we have seen happen before,” Liccardo said in his statement.

“The city of San José is committed to public safety and is dedicated to supporting and investing in the safety of our community,” he said. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when resources were stretched and the needs of our residents were abundant, the city continued to provide critical budgetary investments to SJPD, ensuring the ongoing safety of our community.”

The city reported that since 2021, it has hired 208 officers, resulting in a vacancy rate of 2.56%, or 30 sworn positions out of 1,173 budgeted sworn positions. This includes 20 new police officers that were added as of July 1 as part of the 2022-2023 budget.

The budget for Police Department staffing (sworn and non-sworn) has increased by 50% from 2014-2015 to 2022-2023, from $303 million to $451 million, the city reported.

In addition, the 2022-2023 bBudget also adds 20 new sworn police officer positions, 16 for a permanent walking beat program in the downtown and high need neighborhoods, and four for the mobile crisis assessment team, according to a city statement. The 2022-2023 budget also includes the annual addition of up to 15 positions in the Police Department, which may be a mix of sworn and civilian positions depending on the most pressing community safety needs.

The officer union’s latest pay proposal is a 14% pay increase (including an additional pay for training) over two years (8% in 2022-2023, 6% in 2023-2024) and a $5,000 bonus.

“We are in our own 911 emergency,” union president Sean Pritchard said in a statement.

“With our call volume, and we have fewer detectives, they simply don’t have the time,” Pritchard said of the detectives’ survey response. “They’re going to do what is minimally required to try and bring that case to resolution.”

In the survey, police salary and benefits were cited by 72% as reasons for possibly leaving, according to the survey. A majority of officers, and in some instances a supermajority, cited a combination of a lack of city, department and public support.

When asked about their sense of morale in the department, of 649 officers who responded, 77% rated it “5” or lower on a 10-point scale. The largest plurality, 24.3%, rated it a “3.”

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

17 Comments

  1. Pay is one thing – and the unions will always push for more pay & benefits to stuff their coffers,
    but a much bigger concern is Job Satisfaction, Job Safety and Employer/Management Support of workers.
    Low Police morale due to Soft-on-Crime Prosecutors, DAs and Judges who release criminals before the arresting officer can submit the heaps of admin paperwork, and
    a lack of support by elected officials from the Mayor on down for Law Enforcement Officers and their public interactions make this dangerous job more and more thankless and stressful.

    Stuck at the bottom of this article is the headline across the country today:
    “A majority of officers, and in some instances a Super-Majority, cited a combination of
    a lack of city, department and public support.”

    (Aug 11, 2022) “Police officer Exodus a result of ‘Demonization of Law Enforcement,’
    top police official says
    Mass Retirements, Drop in Recruitment have created a Police Staffing ‘Crisis’ ”

    Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president warns:
    “We’re losing experience on a level that should be a concern to every American.”

    “2,465 New York PD officers have submitted their papers to leave the agency so far in 2022, including 71% who did so before becoming eligible for their full pensions.
    The 2022 figure is a 42% jump from the 1,731 officers who left the job at the same time in 2021”

    “New Jersey has seen a 90% decrease in applicants for troopers while
    Chicago has seen 83% less applicants…”

    “Crime’s going up,”
    “That revolving door criminal justice system… it makes our jobs less safe.”

    “More than 210 police & law enforcement officers have been shot in the line of duty so far in 2022 (as of July 31) – up 14% from last year…”

    “Officers wondered if they would be left holding the bag when pressure is brought to bear on the city following an interaction on the street that goes sideways,
    even if the officers felt they were acting in good faith or in self-defense.”

    “Is the chief going to support me in a use of force?”
    “Is the city manager going to support me in a use of force?”

    We have seen over and over how false narratives, false statements, and false reports have resulted in riots, looting and arson when an edited or snippet of video is posted by race baiting opportunists to incite the public and push “defund the police” propaganda.

  2. City of San Jose: “I know they are telling us they will quit, and why – but we will just wait until it happens to do anything about it because clearly we have done enough.”

    This is CA’s same roadmap to solve homelessness. We are doing enough, clearly :/ – despite the issue getting worse, and people constantly telling them why. It’s just nonsensical at San Jose City Hall at this point. If I am a CA police officer, I am moving out of state to where people appreciate my presence.

  3. The National average of Police is 2.5 Officers per 1000 population. SJ has around 1000 Officers. With SJ having about 1mil population, SJ would need to nearly triple its Officers. Let’s see how serious SJ puts public safety in its support. I don’t feel safe in this City, do you?

  4. I have grown weary of police who have replaced their mission of serving and protecting people with serving and protecting property. They constantly saying crime is worse, as if people are getting worse. When the truth is people at the bottom are being oppressed like we want them disposed of by incarceration or death. Replace those police who don’t want to serve people with social workers, mental health workers and income to meet basic needs.

  5. What bias garbage! 189k average salary! No line officer makes that much working a 40 hr work week. Cmon SJI try for once to be honest. Why inflate the “salary” figure with overtime which often times is mandatory because of staffing shortage. This is the same issue that has been plaguing the dispatch/911 upstairs for a decade. This city has been running short staffed for years. Theres a reason it takes an hour to free up enough units to clear a street takeover. YOU AND THE REST OF THE MEDIA ARE THE REAL PROBLEM

  6. Don’t let the door hit cha — Moving to Florida ? Texas? — we don’t need MORE cops — We don’t need Less cops —–What we REALLY need is more GOOD COPS !! — i appreciate more of them as ‘partners’ in effective policing — former retired officer. U.S.N Iraq VET

  7. Don’t let the door hit cha — Moving to Florida ? Texas? — we don’t need MORE cops — We don’t need Less cops —–What we REALLY need is more GOOD COPS !! — i appreciate more of them as ‘partners’ in effective policing —

  8. The article clearly states overtime is included. It doesnt mention the amazing pension benefits that the rest of us non-hourly employees do not get, who are also forced to work overtime. Yes being an officer his hard and dangerous and sometimes thankless. But retiring after 33 years with 100% of your salary as a pension is also nice.

  9. San Jose used to have 1400 police in 2008, before recession and pension cuts. Staffing dropped to 900 as officers left for better pay elsewhere. The present staffing of around 1100 is not back to where it used to be.

  10. What isn’t mentioned in the article is whether or not we have clawed our way back to parity in the numbers of police and fire workforce that we had prior to Mayor Reid’s drastically misguided pension-gutting Measure B passed in 2012. That resulted in the wholesale gutting of the police/fire and other public sector city workers who left San Jose in droves for better opportunities up the peninsula or even in other jurisdictions within the confines of Santa Clara Co. Back then not only was pay, retirement and healthcare benefits a major issue, but also oft cited was a lack of respect by the mayor and citizens who felt it was OK to take away what had previously been promised. That was pretty demoralizing. I remember one of the more egregious items in the measure was that if a probationary officer was injured on the job he would not be eligible for workers comp coverage. Who wants to put their life on the line with no guarantees? I also remember back then before the big purge that San Jose operated on fewer than the normal officer/citizen ratio recommended, much fewer than say San Francisco for example. But the talking point then was that ‘San Jose didn’t need that many officers because we policed smarter.’ Once again, that was before the post Measure-B exodus.

    Somewhere between the two factions the truth lay. Unfortunately this article did not shine any light on the truth. (Former dispatcher SJPD and Fire 1978-2000.)

  11. But then we have this….it was stated on June 1, 2022 in a San Jose Spotlight article:
    “Matt asked the mayor for help with a couple of prospective donors, so he helped,” Jim Reed, Liccardo’s chief of staff, told San José Spotlight.
    The mayor did not personally raise money for other San Jose candidates during this same time period, the disclosure form shows.
    Liccardo also raised more than $400,000 for Common Good Silicon Valley, a political action committee (PAC) he helped create with Reed. Of that amount, the PAC spent more than $295,000 on Mahan mailers, texts and ads this year, as of Tuesday.

  12. Hey BorninSJ Youre as bad as the media and Sliccardo! 33 year 100% retirment!??? Seriously did you really just spew that number out? LOLLLLLLL At least go look athe current MOU and pull up the latest retirement chart.

  13. What we need is less politicians telling law enforcement how to do policing, when these political types have zero law enforcement experience, zero police training training and everything they say is politicized. Leave it to the experts (trained professional law enforcement) to do their JOB. These cops are not trying to tell the politicians how to do their job. The reason for that is – they they are COPS and NOT political hacks. Take control of your whiny complaining citizen public and leave the crooks to COPS…

  14. San Jose is one of the safest big cities in America, if you feel scared it’s in your head not in the streets. SJPOA is trying to follow up to Santa Clara PD’s big contract hike before an anticipated recession hits. Residents of San Jose have to also remember the city pays more into officer pension system than other surrounding cities do – yes, in large part because of the SJ Retirement System mismanagement but was SJPOA members who use to sit on that board. If San Jose wants to find more money for more cops, try making SJFD go back to a 4/10 shift from their current 48/96 shift where they work 2.5 days and are off four days per week. The new Willow Glen fire station doesn’t need to be staffed by firefighters, it can house contract EMS personnel and their vehicles which are needed much more.

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