From San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo: The Facts About Police Staffing

“Truth is the first casualty in war.”

Ethel Annikin, 1915

“......while wage negotiations and political campaigns subject the truth to their own unique variety of butt-kicking.”

–Sam Liccardo, 2022

The last time that police staffing aroused controversy in San Jose, I refused the demands of some protesters to “defund the police” in 2020.  Anti-police protesters responded by painting expletives on my wife’s and my home after one demonstration.  I defied the demands of the protesters for a simple reason: our community wants– and our public safety demands–more police officers. I worked over multiple budgets to save and identify the dollars to expand officer staffing at SJPD by more than 220 officers in the last half-decade, and to increase the police budget by 50% since I became mayor in 2015.

When neighbors helped me clean the graffiti from our home, however, I didn’t expect facts to get wiped away with it.

Last week, San Jose’s police union–known as the San Jose Police Officers Association (POA)– burst on the headlines warning of a “mass exodus” of officers from the SJPD based on their survey of some of their members, purportedly due to the City’s lack of investment in the officer’s compensation.    The next day, County Supervisor Cindy Chavez–-financially backed by the police union in her mayoral campaign–repeated their warnings of doom through robocalls, text messages, and social media.

All of this would be very alarming, of course, if it were true.  So we checked the facts with a non-combatant in these political wars, the City’s Human Resources Department.

It’s not true. See  SJPD staff graf

Here’s what we learned, in three bullet points:

So, Why the Scare Tactics – and Why Now? 

So, why is the police union and a POA-backed politician scaring residents over a “mass exodus” talk now?  Simply, the police union is negotiating with the City for higher wages in a new police contract.   The City has offered to increase wages by 7% over two years, but the police union’s latest demands include a 14% pay increase, with a $5,000 “cash bonus.”   Obviously, police officers should be compensated well–and they are.   They’re the highest paid group of employees in the City, as noted above, with POA members earning an average salary of more than $189,000.   But we must ensure that we have sufficient taxpayer dollars to hire more officers, and not merely to pay officers more.

Explaining the POA’s “Alternative Universe” 

In two ways, the police union offers an “alternative universe” of assertions about police staffing, strikingly different from the objective data presented by the City’s Human Resources Department:

(1) “Vacancies”

First, although the POA admits in writing that the current approximately 3% vacancy rate for “sworn officers is low”, the union claims that the City should define “vacancy” differently.   The POA would like the City to count positions as “vacant” if they are filled by rookie officers undergoing on-the-job supervision with Field Training officers, or if the officers are injured.   To my knowledge, neither San Jose nor any other big city has ever counted “vacancies” in that manner, for some obvious reasons.  First, rookie officers who are working in Field Training are actually making arrests, investigating crimes, and responding to 911 calls.  They’re also collecting a salary.   By any standard definition, that makes their position “full.”   Second, any officer out for two weeks because of, say, a knee injury,  is still collecting a salary with benefits.  If the POA defines such positions as “vacant,” then it follows that the City should go hire somebody else to fill the position.  That logic breaks down on the next step.  Should the City fire all of the rookies and injured officers to avoid paying them a salary?  If not, then the City must pay two salaries for the same position, blowing up the annual budget by several million dollars.  It’s not hard to understand why the POA’s definition of “vacancies” won’t work in any city.

What’s remarkable about the low, approximately 3% vacancy rate at SJPD is the larger economic context: employers in every sector struggle to fill positions amid a historically low unemployment rate, particularly here in the Bay Area.  Every other city department has a far higher vacancy rate, for example.

(2) The Fallacy of Fleeing Officers

Last week, the POA also told any media outlet willing to listen that 206 officers have “departed” the city since January of 2021.   The facts from the City’s Human Resources Department starkly differ: only 37 SJPD officers with at least twenty weeks of experience voluntarily left the Department for other work in that time– about 2% percent of SJPD’s officers per annum, and only 12 of those 37 went to work for another police department, every one of them outside the Bay Area.   Plenty of other officers did leave SJPD since January of 2021–126 to be exact– but for very different reasons.  Specifically, three (3) officers died, fourteen (14) were either fired or resigned in lieu of termination, twenty-one (21) rookies didn’t make it out of 20-week field training, and two demoted to civilian positions within SJPD.  By far, retirement constituted the reason for most of the departures–eighty six (86) in all–but those retirement numbers were fully anticipated by HR.  Why so many retirements?  Officers hired in the 1990’s receive a generous pension that pays 3% of their salary for every year worked, and in many cases, it actually costs the officer more to keep working (and paying into their retirement) than to retire.   All of those 1990’s hires are now coming into retirement age, and to nobody’s surprise, they’re retiring.

To be clear, concurrent with departures come new arrivals; since 2021, SJPD reports that it has hired 208 officers into the Department.  That’s why SJPD’s vacancy is so low.

Additional context seems important : the fact that 37 officers (out of more than 1150, or about 2% per year) chose to leave SJPD since January of 2021 is unremarkable to any employer in the Bay Area familiar with the pandemic-era “Great Resignation” combined with the “Great Exodus” from California’s coastal cities.   Simply, police officers are doing exactly what other Bay Area residents are doing: leaving the area for less expensive communities.  Not a single one of the 12 officers who we’ve identified who left to another department has gone to a Bay Area department, let alone one paying more money.

Taking the Plank Out of Our Own Eyes...

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.  This June, her County Sheriff threatened to shut down two County courthouses due to a “staffing crisis” that shrank the number of County deputies from 530 deputy sheriffs in 2019 to only 370 today.

It also comes as the County’s policy of permanently “depopulating the jail”--which Supervisors Chavez and Ellenberg proposed last year– has come under scrutiny amid County’s own data showing that more than 40% of arrestees released pretrial are failing to comply with their release conditions, by committing new offenses or failing to show up for court.  The spinning turnstile at the jailhouse door has overburdened SJPD officers arresting, citing, and rearresting 134 offenders ten times or more—some as many as 30 times–since January of 2020, seemingly without any consequence.   While local judges have abandoned their pandemic-era “zero bail” orders, the County’s continued push to depopulate its jails will continue to have consequences, because since at least 2017, the County has implemented a process of releasing misdemeanor arrestees after booking with mere “jail citations,” without regard for the severity or violence of the arrestee’s prior record.   As County jail populations have dropped dramatically, we’ve seen no surge in the County’s inpatient drug or mental health treatment.   Unsurprisingly, violent crime has increased.   And Supervisor Chavez has voted repeatedly to halt the funding and construction of a new (albeit smaller) jail to replace the Main Jail, in a seemingly blind hope that we’ll embrace a utopian, jail-free future.

Hearing Supervisor Chavez speak out on this issue may also leave some with a case of déjà vu.  About two decades ago, then-Vice Mayor Cindy Chavez and the City Council approved retroactive increases in retirement benefits for police officers and other City employees.  They appointed retirement board members who applied optimistic assumptions and rosy interpretations of the retirement plans’ shaky financial condition.  The POA and other unions backed her in her unsuccessful 2006 mayoral run then, as now, with dollars, volunteers, and campaign muscle.

Two years after Chavez’s departure from the City Council, the City’s Auditor and external analyses revealed that San Jose had incurred billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities for pension and retiree health benefits due to multiple factors, including retroactive benefit expansions and rosy assumptions.  The result: skyrocketing mandatory contributions to the City’s retirement funds forced hundreds of layoffs, a hiring freeze, and severe cuts in city services–including police–for the following decade.  Our taxpayers will shoulder that multi-billion-dollar debt for another decade still, based on the current amortization schedule.  There is good news on the horizon, though: with the passage of Measure F in 2016 and strong fiscal discipline, we have finally turned the corner this year, and the annual retirement cost burdens on our taxpayers have finally begun to drop.

Nonetheless, we cannot forget the lessons of history:  a lack of fiscal discipline by the City Council twenty years ago triggered severe pain for our residents and workforce, from which we have only begun to recover.   We should support our police officers with good salaries, and we do.  Let’s ensure that we have fiscal restraint to stretch our residents’ tax dollars to pay for the expansion of public safety and the many other services that they deserve.

Sam Liccardo is mayor of the City of San Jose.





  1. The unions are just looking for financial palm greasing and will support anyone willing to promise more and more taxpayer dollars – even if sometime in the future they become too big a burden to sustain (which all California politicians do to get re-elected) – the politicians will be long gone before the real bills come due.

    CA still has the largest Public Pension Debt of any state – growing exponentially as the Stock Market Tanks amid record breaking inflation, recession and stagflation on the horizon.

    “Report: At $1.5 Trillion, CA Has Nation’s Largest Public Pension Debt Load” (June 2022, CA Center Square).

    And the article covers Cindy Chavez’s Hypocritical Public Safety and Policing platforms.

    Santa Clara County “..Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to construct a 500-inmate maximum security jail … Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Cindy Chavez Voted Against the new jail.”

    ABC-C – Too Much Corruption in Her History (Labor kick-backs).
    ABC-C – Taxpayers Do Not Support Her ‘Defund the Police’ Record.
    ABC-C – No More $0 Bails and Revolving Door Jails.

    After over 20 years of living off the public taxpayers coffers it is
    Time to Term-Out – Cindy Chavez.

  2. Don’t forget the nearly-secret, last-minute $4 million city subsidy to the San Jose Grand Prix that Ms. Chavez was a part of in 2006. When that finally came out, the public outrage was a big part of her first mayoral loss.

    Today, as then, there are big trust issues concerning this candidate. Especially when it comes to San Jose’s financial security.

  3. $180K Police salary is phony. The city is including medical coverages that are NOT part of their salary. Why doesn’t the City show take home pay? Could it be that amount is embarrassing? SJ has crimes above the national average and let’s see how SJ views it’s public safety! I don’t feel safe here! Do you?

  4. Maybe the negotiations with the police ‘unions’ should put the idea of qualified immunity on the table. I realize that this is more of a legal thing than an HR one, but still. They are immune from making terrible, terrible costly mistakes.

    It’s wrong to correlate increases or decreases of reported crimes to the number of cops on the street. We all know that cops don’t prevent crime, they are there to clean up afterwards. The things that prevent crime are things that would be considered ‘soft skills’, like housing, less wealth inequality, mental health care, etc. But that sure doesn’t sound too good to a campaigning politician, now does it?

  5. I’d like to see the POA write an article also. Liccardo speaks out of both sides. His numbers can be skewed different ways. How do you compare SJ to Berkley or Concord? Both have less than 200 officers. None of the agencies making less money have more than 700 officers. None are larger than the size of one of SJ’s council districts. There is no comparison. Apples to oranges.

    His comment about the officers who were fired should worry every SJ citizen. “Fourteen (14) were either fired or resigned in lieu of termination, twenty-one (21) rookies didn’t make it out of 20-week field training, and two demoted to civilian positions within SJPD”. Those not making it out of field training did pass the academy. SJ is hiring from the bottom of the barrel. Not many who are good want to apply to SJ. How many officers have been arrested in the past few months? That shows who SJ is able to hire. Sexual abusers, drunks, and drug users. Who will be arrested next? SJPD needs to have major changes. They will never be able to hire quality officers until changes are made. One start is salaries.

  6. Cindy Chavez is a crook. Period. She has scammed the city out of hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more. Cindy pretends she cares, but all she wants is money. Fake contracts many years back with east side union high school district. Promised services, but never followed through, except for the big fat paycheck she took with no guilt. The Grand Prix, another money making scam for her benefit. Closing of businesses for this bs covid scare that 75% of the county hasn’t even gotten, but hey more money in her pocket. Behind trying to close Reid Hillview Airport claiming contamination. How about the truth Cindy? Its time to stop glamorzing someone who doesnt give a rats A$$ about anyone but her pocketbook. Stand up and say NO to these so called women in politics who want nothing more than to better themselves,
    not the citizens of Santa Clara County.

  7. Readers,
    It is sad that some of you are so horribly misinformed and ignorant about the issues. As Americans we value the right to express our opininions in a fair, honest and dignified manner. Well here are my facts: The San Jose Police Dept. (Which hired me in 1987, and I retired in 2012 with 25 years of service at the rank of Sergeant). What Mayor Liccardo is saying is simply untrue. When he burst on-scene years ago, he and former Mayor Chuck Reed began the demolition of the not only the Police Department but the Fire Department too. He was qoated on TV that he would lay off Police and Fire personnel, and did! I guess in his opinion, clerical staff, gardeners, mechanics, and librians are far more important than first responders. We at the police Dept. went without raises, paid the highest amounts into the retirement city of San Jose retirement system which Mr. Liccardo continues to suppress and deny. If you are truly a “student of the game” your research will confirm my statements. Keep in mind Mr. Liccardo has been the Mayor for eight years and could not solve the problem?
    DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Mr. Mayhan is not your best choice being coached by Mr. Liccardo.

  8. Everyone knows lucky liccardo and his fellow environmental lawyer Reed defunded the police 16 years ago. He was the part of the first wave. We are now in third wave neo liberal babble.

  9. Looney progressives everywhere. The trend of going to “I want to be a millionaire by doing nothing” is in constant fuel. Try calling the police department for anything. Try a burglary of your home, a robbery of a store, a sideshow, a threat for violence. I assure you they will keep you on hold and respond with “I’m sorry we don’t respond to those. Thank you”. I assure you the local government don’t care about you, nor does the police. The police wants more money as unions always do. The bureaucrats wants ways to hide funding. Overhaul the government, deport the illegal, arrest the felons and let’s make this a safe place for the rest of the decent humans who follow the rules.

  10. I’m surprised Sam had the time to write this. I thought he was preoccupied with adding more and more bike lanes that go largely unused except by the homeless. I believe next to nothing Liccardo offers simply because he’s lied to my face multiple times. I cannot wait for Sam to be gone.

  11. What is the average annual salary for a San Jose Police Officer without overtime?

    In addition, can someone explain how these two statements from the article can be true at the same time?
    “Among the 17 large departments in the Bay Area to which we are routinely compared in police wage surveys, San Jose has the third-highest paid officers in the region. Keep in mind that when it comes to officer salaries, Bay Area leaps a very high bar: San Jose metro has the highest police salaries in the United States.”

  12. @Resident Too,
    Explanation: The author is confusing readers by mixing interchangeable terms with similar intent but no clear definition.

    The “Bay Area” is basically the same as “San Jose Metro” – the SJ Metro is kind of nebulous so readers may define it differently – Like Silicon Valley or the South Bay (from a SanFran point of view),
    it depends on the author on how they define each area.

    “A metropolitan area, metro area or metro is a region consisting of a densely populated urban core and its less-populated surrounding territories, sharing industry, infrastructure, and housing. A metropolitan area usually comprises multiple jurisdictions and municipalities: neighborhoods, townships, cities, exurbs, counties, and even states.”

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