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.”