Playing Politics with Public Safety

San Jose policymakers have put out the welcome mat for criminals of all types. Their war on cops has had the unintended consequence of spiking crime and leaving city residents frustrated and defenseless.

Adding insult to injury, city policy makes it clear to residents and criminals alike that there will be little or no consequence for unlawful behavior that does not rise to a “priority” level. In other words, if there is no imminent threat, the police are not showing up. “Please file a report for insurance purposes by coming down to the station, otherwise, will not be getting back to you.”

As a recent victim of crime—my iPad was stolen—in which police were tracking the thief, I was told: “As long as they don’t go to San Jose, we can get them.” As jurisdictions change in the Valley, so does the level of law enforcement service. When the late Steve Jobs’ house was burglarized, it was Apple’s security, not public funded agencies that cracked the case. Most people don’t have a private security force. (Editor’s note: Especially dead people.)

It is common knowledge that property crimes are given a low priority in the current enforcement system in San Jose. The elimination of 400 cops on the street, exacerbated by disrespected veterans leaving the force for other agencies, is a major part of the problem.

San Jose once boasted that it was the safest big city in America. No more.

Mayor Chuck Reed, in his zeal for a political win against public pensions, has used his office to make police officers and firefighters the poster children for the bad decisions of City Managers and elected officials in the past. To the Mayor’s credit, he admits to being a party to those previous bad decisions. The problem is that the consequences of those decisions fall on those who are blameless, but who have been vilified for political purposes.

The consequences of the policies have left the city divided, with poor morale and now, admittedly, vulnerable. The problem stems from a failure to communicate, a failure to get agreement, a failure to equally share in the sacrifice and a calculation that making the victims of the Bush recession the enemy would be good politics. Most of all, it is a breakdown in the trust of San Jose leadership and those who must carry out the policy of those leaders.

Mayor Reed is fond of saying he is willing to make the “tough” decisions. But leadership is more than making decisions; it’s about keeping those who are affected by those decisions with you.

Nothing could be more telling than the recent traffic ticket the Mayor received. No Mayor in the past would ever receive a citation for “failing to signal” on a turn. As long as a Mayor isn’t drunk or driving recklessly, they get a warning—not a ticket.

But the alienation of city workers at all levels has become personal. The Mayor now needs those people he has offended to help him and his city come up with a workable plan to protect the citizens and businesses of San Jose.

He and high-level city administrators must begin to heal the rift created by the politics. At the same time, they must also come up with a workable plan that addresses the safety and concerns of San Jose residents.

In the final analysis, it will be the results of this initiative—not pension reform—that will be the real legacy of this Mayor. And until it is accomplished, criminals will continue to prey on an unprotected public. The once proud safest big city in America will remain a lawless and open city, reminiscent of the old West.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

9 Comments

  1. I posted the following comment on PLO’s piece about unleashing the reserves. Frankly, I found his suggestion insulting and the product of a near-total ignorance – not just of the realities of policing the city, but of basic mathematics. Because he seems unable to perform a few rudimentary calculations, I performed those calculations for him among other critiques.

    While perhaps 5% of PLO’s idea are actually good ones (i.e. ending construction of low-income housing, ending construction of housing in general until the PD can catch up, limiting commercial to residential zoning conversions) this has to be among the worst. It is both unreasonable and irrational to expect that reserve officers can take the place of officers who do the job four or more days a week nearly every week of the year. They can’t keep up with the training or legislative and case law changes, among other practical reasons. And I think that it’s excessively optimistic to say that all 80 of our reserves (incidentally a number significantly from historical norms, go figure) are qualified to work as solo beat officers. Even if they were, 800 hours a month is a drop in the bucket compared to the *3760* hours per week which represent the absence of 94 officers due to resignations and officers being on disability. Let’s do the math on that one: 800 hours/month is a whopping 5% of the man hours not worked every month (16,293 hours/month). Meaning no disrespect to those reserves, but the math doesn’t support the solution, which is pretty much like trying to patch up the Titanic with a wad of bubble gum.

  2. Rich,
    My Father was a lifer in the military, and even though I was very young, I still remember him worrying about the young soldiers he trained that were sent off to Vietnam. I also remember the day my Dad was shipped there too. I was really too young to understand where he was going, and what war meant, but at 55 years old, I can still remember the black car that drove up to certain people’s homes to tell their families that their husband/wife had died in the line of duty. (I still hate black cars to this day.)

    I also remember the homecoming my Father received from the media looking for a story, and protesters at the airport. I was horrified to see my Dad and other injured soldiers who risked their lives for this country, coming off the plane to chants like, “Murders! Baby killers!”

    I saw the look of deep hurt, and betrayal on my Dad’s face, and to be honest with you, it never left until the day he died. It is the same look I see in the eyes of our public safety servants and City employees since pension reform has reared it’s ugly head, and it deeply saddens me.

    I guess that is a big part of why I hold vigils, and now BBQs to honor our public safety servants. I just want them to know they are loved, supported, and respected for their service.

    I also remember my Dad telling me that if a leader has the loyalty, trust, and respect of his men/women, then they will gladly die for him/her on the battle field. I know that what he said was true because one day a package arrived for him with a plaque, and letters from the men who survived under his command.

    These men thanked him for keeping them alive, for giving them his food rations, and water when they ran out, and for letting them sleep safely in their fox holes under his watch. I will never forget crying with him when he read them, or feeling more proud of my Father thereafter.

    My hope is that our elected’s start working with employees and their Unions, and that they truly see and appreciate the sacrifices that our public servants make for us, and that they come to appreciate the fact that they can sleep safely in their beds at night, thanks to these brave, and selfless individuals.

    May God bless our Police and Firefighters, and may HE keep them safe from harm.

  3. Great post!  I do however, disagree with the part of high level city admininistrators having to move forward with the “healing process.”  City workers and the citizenry of San Jose have a great distrust for the dishonest politicians that have torn the City of San Jose into tatters. Until Herrera ,Constant, Nguyen, Liccardo, Oliverio and Reed vacate city hall, nothing positive can possibly be accomplished. Oh yeah, how refreshing not to have read anything about the “chosen one” who used to be an officer. As if his cheesy opinions mattered.

    • Elections matter, but after the election—we still need to solve problems.  But nothing sends a message to politicians than election results.

      • Absolutely right. When 1500 cops do not trust the mayor and think he is corrupt and lies nothing will change. Hundreds have fled. No new ones will stay as they do not trust city hall. 

        Top Gun is right all those council people that created this problem need to go.  How will they find a new chief?  No one wants to take on a dept where the council is going to tell you what to do and say. 

        This issue of replacing the cops will take decades to fix.

        To keep the cops here if you reinstated the pay cuts, took Measure B, V, W, back off the board, AND then get someone like Ash Karla to sit down and compromise on a pension reform you may be able to keep the cops you have.

        Anything less they still going to flee. There another 160 officers currently being backgrounded. Once the backgrounds done more are leaving.  Of course Chief Moore left.  He knew there is not much more to cut. ,,,

        REED and Constant should quit to save the city. Figone should be fired.

  4. Good post Rich. We could not give a damn what his plans are for going forward, we are going to win in court and that is our only concern. There will never be any useful discussion between public safety in San Jose and this mayor, we will not waste our time with liars. Bottom line.

  5. In all Honesty , dont really see things getting ANY better ………Until Greed + 5 are Out. There Is “ZERO” Trust Between City workers and Mayor /Council .  Public Safety has been Viciously Maligned by this Mayor/council , witch is why they are leaving in droves. Those that do stay continue to provide the utmost professional , courageous, professional service to an extremely Ungrateful city