Downtown Businesses Want Security Patrol

Part of a new plan by the business community to rebrand downtown is to staff the city’s core with two patrolling officers. However, how these security guards will be paid has kicked off a new fight between police and city officials.

“There’s a lot of competition for customers, residents, commercial tenants, and downtown needs to be putting its best foot forward,” says Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association.

With businesses struggling to entice customers to downtown over Santana Row and other shopping/entertainment districts, as well as a 22 percent vacancy rate for downtown office space, Knies says the businesses formed a Property Based Improvement District (PBID) in late 2007 to tax themselves and direct funds to combat perceptions as well as reality. The PBID’s self assessment was renewed this week by an overwhelming vote of downtown property owners.

Part of PBID’s plan is to staff the downtown core with two patrolling officers, preferably off-duty police officers.

“Really, there’s no substitute for the professionalism, the training, the way a skilled officer interacts with the public,” Knies says. “They can just kind of read the street from afar. Sometimes they don’t even need to walk down the whole block. Just the fact that they’re on the corner dissipates the problem.”

Jim Unland, president of the Police Officers Association union, agrees with Knies’ assessment, which is why the police union is fighting to have the PBID officers paid at overtime rates rather than the significantly reduced rate of secondary employment positions, which often entail security work for schools and other nightlife areas like Santana Row and The Plant. (More than 60 officers have already applied for the positions.)

“My understanding of the Downtown Business Association is they want them actively patrolling the downtown streets, and proactively taking enforcement actions,” Unland says. “Well, that’s the definition of patrol work. So, they’re trying to replace patrol officers, with essentially off-duty patrol officers.

Tom Saggau, a political consultant for the police union as well as several downtown bars and nightclubs, says some of his latter clients have lobbied City Hall for a greater security presence in the downtown core to little avail. He says without off-duty police, “basically it’s going to be mall cops who are running around causing problems.”

Councilmember Sam Liccardo, whose District 3 includes downtown, rejects any notion that City Hall has resisted a greater police presence. “There’s one person who decides how to allocate officers, and that’s the police chief,” he says, “and I’m not throwing the chief under the bus.”

But some observers on the political periphery say that’s exactly what the police union is doing to Liccardo. The fight between the POA and Liccardo turned personal during the last two years of contentious pension reform negotiations, which ultimately fell apart and resulted in the council forming Measure B and voters passing the measure earlier this month.

Unland recently sent a letter out to POA membership slamming Liccardo for again going after their pay through the PBID patrol program.

Liccardo disputes claims that he was trying to short-sell officers’ pay by classifying the PBID work as a secondary employment instead of overtime.

“Let’s be clear, when you call it patrolling because they’re walking down the street or they’re standing in front of a club with a badge and police uniform, to me it’s a distinction without a difference,” Liccardo says. “ To me, the value of the officers is that there’s somebody there under the color of authority, with the skills and the training to enforce the law.”

Unland and the POA will be meeting this week with the city’s chief negotiator, Alex Gurza, to discuss PBID patrol compensation. While negotiations between the two parties have often gone next to nowhere in the past, the subject of secondary employment carries added significance after an audit in March found wide-spread abuses of the secondary employment program.

An attempt to challenge secondary employment classification for PBID patrol could risk work in other areas, such as schools, shopping centers and other arts and music festivals, Knies says.

“I’m not sure what their argument is, because it seems the scope of work is very similar to the scope of work for a lot of other secondary employment jobs. They’re actually putting their whole secondary employment in jeopardy.”

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

9 Comments

  1. This shows you who controls San Jose….Downtown Business???  REALLY!!!  Downtown is a shi%*hole, especially when the street lights get turned on…The “WHOLE” city, not just your district is facing huge increases in crime!!!  Sam what are you doing about the 14 year old boy that was murdered in your park?  I know the FBI said crime is down, but you should ask a lowly patrolman that actually works the streets what is going on.  Thats right, you and the other politicians can’t handle or even tell the truth…Your city is hugely under-policed.  Teams that usually that have 7-8 officers are going out with 3-4 officers…Why?  Garza will tell the police union, like he always does, do it “our way” or you will be punished!!!!  This city’s leadership is a joke…Mayor Reed is going to have his gang task-force hit the hospitals and offer free counseling to gang members that have been shot or stabbed while waiting for treatment…“a window” to change their lives….Stay classy San Jose

  2. Contrary to the opinions contained in the report, hiring officers to patrol the downtown is not at all comparable to hiring them out to shopping malls, festivals, or local schools (where officers provide particular services for a specific employer). The streets of downtown San Jose belong to the general public and, as such, their protection is the responsibility of the San Jose Police Department—not the local business community. This responsibility is fundamental to modern policing, one that should not be thoughtlessly abrogated.

    Along with the rest of this city, the police protection provided the downtown is the product of a calculation based on need (criminal activity/calls for service/traffic considerations), geography (size/street configurations), and citywide manpower availability. A change in any one of these three factors in any area of the city will affect the entire city. This city is currently suffering the effects of a critical manpower shortage, the work of a political strategy engineered by the mayor who foolishly thinks it possible to police this city on the cheap.

    That San Jose’s downtown business community has enough money to isolate itself from the problems affecting the rest of the city is no reason to allow them to do it. The officers they intend to hire are the very same men and women the rest of us expect to somehow give us forty hours of protection every week—as they work in districts understaffed by 40%, for political leaders who’ve insulted them, and for a public that wants to punish them for the troubled economy. This plan will not work, at least for those of us outside of the downtown. What the city is proposing is to allow one group of citizens (those with cash and influence) to outbid the rest of us for the energies of our police officers. What’s next? Will the Almaden Valley residents get together to buy the police protection it deserves?

    I don’t know what the POA is thinking in going along with a plan whose aim is to use officers on overtime so the city can avoid doing the hiring necessary to get the department back up to MINIMUM staffing (it’s about 400 short of that now). The longer the city can bleed its existing workforce the more money it saves, the more officers transfer out or retire, the more vacancies open up for the poorly thought-out, proposed second-tier retirement program.

    With an increased reliance on overtime, every POA member who works the street will have his/her safety imperiled by depending on fellow officers who are physically and mentally exhausted from working too many hours. This danger is real. In 1989, when the city was once again using overtime to police this city on the cheap, an overtime officer, four hours into the second of two ten-hour shifts scheduled for a 26 hour period, lost his gun to a deranged man and was murdered. It can happen again.

    If Chuck Reed is willing to put us mere citizens at risk with his irresponsible leadership, he and his lackeys must face the consequences of their actions. If they’ve cooked up a political crisis, let them feast on it. Let the rooms and residences go vacant, let the cash registers go quiet, let the banks come-a-calling. The big money folks downtown—the high-rise developers and land owners used to getting what they want, are pulling strings and trying to protect their investments; the rest of us, who get next-to-nothing from this city, are just try to protect our children and ourselves.

  3. Eliminate all “secondary employment”
    All paid overtime should be billed to the city at time and one half. Officers should only work overtime while “on duty” and under the protections of the city itself.
    You officers should not SCAB.  Refuse these jobs. Call the city’s bluff. If they tried to eliminate “secondary employment” we citizens would see the real bargain we’ve been receiving.

    My mechanic charges me 90 bucks an hour, but I can hire a trained professional policeman for 45? Seriously?

    BTW, did THE METRO agree to pay for separate police services for their building on 1st st?

    • Since the Metro is in the PBID it doesn’t matter whether they agreed or not – THEY WILL pay becase a supposed majority of PBID members agreed for them.

  4. First downtown business owners complain about too many cops scaring off customers, now they are complaining about not having enough? Good grief, make up your mind already…

  5. @sierraspartan….sheriffs office wouldn’t take it even if it was for triple time….they hate the city of san jose just as much as its gravytrain employees