Editor’s Note: Jim Unland is a sergeant in the San Jose Police Department and vice president of the Police Officers Association. He wrote this column for San Jose Inside.
Last week the nationally renowned criminologist Chuck Reed said, “There’s nobody that seems to think that there’s a direct connection between the number of officers and the number of homicides.” Another tactic he uses to dismiss the police staffing shortages and the rise in homicides in our city is when asked about the fact that we are about to double the number of homicides we had in all of 2010, he says that last year we had an abnormally low number of homicides (20 homicides). Really? The fact is that since 1998 the city homicide rate has always been in the twenties with the exception of two years. In 2007 there were 33 homicides and in 2008 there were 31 homicides.
This weekend, the city suffered its 18th gang-related homicide for the year. That is two less than the total number of homicides in all of last year. This murder brings us to a total of 39 homicides for the year.
Mayor Reed has said that gang homicides can be prevented. A few months ago he told a reporter, “We know that the one area where we can have an impact on homicides is in the gang homicides area.” Mayor Reed, we had five gang-related homicides all of last year. This year we are already at 18. You said that we can impact this type of homicide. When do you intend to start doing that? Under your watch our department dismantled the Violent Crimes Enforcement Team (VCET). It was an odd strategy to reduce gang violence. How has it worked out so far?
Chuck Reed would rather not talk about the rising violence in our city. It doesn’t affect him. It is very safe up on the 18th floor of City Hall. Maybe if the citizens of San Jose all had their own personal police officer to guard them, they would feel safe too. Every time he says that the number of officers doesn’t matter with regards to the homicide rate, he demonstrates his ignorance as to how the San Jose PD has kept its citizens safe for so many years.
What the mayor doesn’t understand is that the San Jose PD model has always worked because, historically, our officers have been pro-active. When the department had 1,409 officers, it was still one of the lowest staffed departments in the nation per capita. However, at 1,409, we had enough officers to do good, pro-active police work. Officers would self-initiate activity because they had the time to do so.
Due to layoffs, retirements, resignations and having no academies for several years, we are now down to 1,094 officers. We no longer have the time or resources to do that type of police work. Out of sheer necessity, we have become a reactive police force and we all see the result is the rise in violence. This is not some gut feeling of mine. Let me share with you two disturbing trends that demonstrate our declining pro-active/self-initiated police work.
The first is the number of confidential informants we have signed up. Good cops have confidential informants. It is one of the most effective ways to prevent and solve crimes. Officers who do this kind of work register the informants with the department. The problem is that this kind of work is very time intensive. The following are year-to-date numbers of informants who have been signed up by San Jose officers.
2006 - 113
2007 - 137
2008 - 117
2009 - 124
2010 - 102
2011 - 61
Another number that tells the story is the quantity of self-initiated arrests our officers make. Officers who make self-initiated arrests use our pre-processing facility before booking the suspect into the county jail. Let’s take a look at those numbers averaged by shift per day from last year to this year. I have adjusted the formula to get an apples to apples comparison due to the fact that this year is not over.
Day Shift — 4.3
Swing Shift — 7.2
Midnight Shift — 5.8
Day Shift — 3.0
Swing Shift — 4.3
Midnight Shift — 3.1
Because our staffing numbers are down, our pro-active/self-initiated work is also down. When those types of arrests go down, crime and the violence associated with it goes up.
Officers know that their city leaders do not support or appreciate them. Staffing shortages have affected their safety and morale. Eventually there won’t be anyone left to do the job. Those who haven’t been laid off will leave for better job opportunities. And all that will be left to ensure the safety of those citizens still living and working in San Jose will be the echo of the mayor’s nonsensical analysis—“There’s nobody that seems to think that there’s a direct connection between the number of officers and the number of homicides.”