The Dismantling of SJPD is Well Underway
By Sgt. Jim Unland
Recently, I came across an article I wrote for the December 2010 edition of the Police Officers' Assoication monthly magazine the Vanguard and was struck by the following passage: “If I were a junior officer here, I would seriously be looking for a job with a department that can promise more job security and with a City that has public safety as a top priority.” That’s what I wrote nearly two years ago. Now we find ourselves watching senior officers and sergeants leave for other agencies.
I just learned that Sergeant Rich Benitez has accepted a job with the Federal Government. Rich was once a POA board member. It was there that I got to know him. He served his country honorably in the United States Army for 22 years including one tour in Afghanistan. He was a member of the San Jose Police Department for 20 years. In that time he developed an expertise in vice, FTO (field training), sexual assaults and bomb disposal. It is his vast expertise in bomb disposal that qualified him to land the job with the FBI.
I was surprised that Rich is leaving the SJPD. Upon further reflection though, I shouldn’t have been. When Rich decided not to run again for the POA board, it was so that he could spend more time with his family including his 2 sons who were quickly growing up in his absence. He was a force in the boardroom and could have been involved in the POA for a long time. Rightfully, his family came first. I know that it was his family’s security and welfare that played into his decision to leave after 20 years of service to this city.
In another example, many of our officers were surprised when they saw Ed Conover, a POA board member and senior sergeant, on the CBS Evening News discussing his decision to look elsewhere for employment. Ed has been with this Department for 16 years. He too has made the decision that leaving this City’s employment is in the best interest of his family. What a loss it will be. He has extensive training in SWAT, FTO, surveillance, METRO, motors (motorcycle unit) and firearms.
How much time and money went into developing these two leaders? How long will it take to replace them? These are two examples of the over 100 bright, talented and committed officers we have lost to resignations since the Mayor began his attack on our ranks. We have many more who are going through the hiring process for other agencies. The damage to our Department will be felt for years to come.
That brings us to today’s mystery word, “retention.” The Chief has everyone within the San Jose Police Department expecting that the City will offer something substantial in the way of a compensation enhancement in August. I still don’t understand how the same City leaders who have served us with court papers demanding the reduction of an additional 16% of our pay and are trying to renege on our sick leave buyout can then turn around and say, “We really do appreciate you. Here’s a token of our affection. Please stay.”
If I was an ambitious soul by the name of Sam or Madison, I would be nervous. After promising the voters more cops if they voted for V, W and B, we find that we have less. Yes, SJPD will be hiring again, but what they didn’t know, until now, is that many of these potential applicants are asking direct questions about any requirements to stay with SJPD after they graduate from the academy. They may be young, but they know what time it is. They know starting with SJPD is the easiest path into the career of law enforcement right now. Nowhere does it say you have to stay with the city who first hired and trained you.
What will the Mayor wanna-be’s tell the voters if SJPD ranks are still down two years from now? You can use the Mayor’s tried and true, “blame the union leaders” excuse. I don’t see it working, but what’s the alternative? Budget shortfalls? Hard to make that case when we’re budgeted for more officers than we employ. Sam’s a bright guy, he’ll think of something. Madison? I’m sure someone will tell her what to say when the time comes.
The dismantling of the San Jose Police Department is well underway. There are too many people to hire, too many experienced cops leaving, too many threats against any semblance of secure working conditions and too many more promising places to work in the field of law enforcement. One thing this City does have going for it though, is term limits. We’ll get a chance to pick up the pieces in 2½ years.
Jim Unland is president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association