A Lesson from the Past

By Joseph D. McNamara

From 1976 to 1991, I served as police chief of San Jose. I was never a member of, nor represented by, the Police Officers Association and was not included in the Police Retirement Fund. I do not collect a pension from San Jose and have no vested financial interest in whether or not the Pension Reform Ballot Measure passes. I do firmly believe, however, that the issue of pension reform has been unfairly framed for discussion against the legitimate interests of the police and the public.

During my 15 years as chief, I was often at odds with the POA during contract negotiations and earned a Vote of “No Confidence” by the POA, which nearly cost me my job for fighting with them over work conditions and discipline. Nevertheless, I always supported paying competitive police salaries and benefits for the simple reason that you can’t have a police department without cops.

In the 80s, police salaries and benefits in San Jose had fallen so low that we could not compete for recruits with other police departments or against the enormous demands of Silicon Valley’s expanding labor market. At one point, I was forced to reduce educational standards for appointment and received a letter of reprimand from the otherwise supportive Latino Peace Officer’s Association. The salary situation got so bad that a wave of “Blue Flu” struck. For seven harrowing days the city hung on the brink of anarchy. Fortunately, enough cops worked 12 hours on and off to prevent a crime wave, but they notified the City Council that they could not continue indefinitely. Finally, a judge ordered the POA back to work. Negotiations resumed and the City Council ratified a contract that gave officers more than they had agreed to accept before the work stoppage. The Council also fired a city manager that had bungled the negotiations by demeaning cops, raising emotions to a level all too similar to today’s political climate.

It’s a lesson for the future. Present police benefits are not the sole or primary cause of the city’s fiscal problems. Many other questionable political decisions have depleted city revenues and increased non-essential costs during a time calling for restraint in spending. A succession of mayors and city councils did what they had to do to hire cops. The city and POA engaged in tough and extended negotiations following state laws. Cops did not “occupy” City Hall or engage in unlawful conduct to insist upon their demands. Both sides signed legal contracts guaranteeing today’s benefits for existing employees. In return, San Jose got a bargain, becoming the safest large city in the nation with the least per-capita police staffing, and the United States Civil Rights Commission declared the SJPD a national model.

Benefits for future employees have always been fair game for negotiations, but it is not in the public interest to demoralize the police by breaking existing contracts negotiated in good faith. The police are the ultimate symbol of American government and its defender against mobs.

When cops themselves lose faith in government’s willingness to follow its own laws, it doesn’t bode well for democracy as a whole. It is imperative that the police who protect citizens’ rights don’t come to believe that the public has turned against them and lost respect for the important job they do.

Joseph D. McNamara is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

This article was originally published on San Jose Inside and has been reposted on Protect San Jose with permission of the author.

Comments

Thank you, Proud to have worked for you Joe Mac

Excellent response to the contract issues down at San Jose PD.
You were my first boss, and I came to SJPD as my first and only choice
of departments to work for, because of you. I did some awesome
work there, thanks to people like yourself, for having faith in me.
Best arrest: Taking down a ring of Vietnamese home invaders, making it
into BOI as the first female in Gangs / VCU, and bringing Gang Injunctions to
fruition. Well, the next Chief ended my career on the Force, but I was strong and persevered.
I'm Irish, after all. I am now a successful portrait photographer. I own a boutique
portrait studio in Pleasanton, specializing in Family & Lifestyle Photography.

Thanks

Chief when I left Monterey to come to SJPD it was because of your leadership and vision . The best cops nationwide wanted to work for SJPD. Many things in police work that are now the standard were started by SJ officers. The national news at the time referred to SjPD as the model police dept. it hurts us all to see the dept destroyed by lies of the city manager and mayor.

Thanks Chief

Thank you for your words of reason and support Chief. However, shouldn't our CURRENT Chief be saying the same thing? Instead we have an absentee landlord who does not possess the courage or integrity to stand up for his troops. Sure he will stop by in briefing (once in a while) and tell us to “fill with our partners” and take it “once call at a time”…but how about publically stating something with substance? Epic leadership FAIL.

Joe Mac

I LOVE YOU MAN

Thanks Chief for your honest

Thanks Chief for your honest assessment. It was a pleasure working there when you were Chief. I wasn't the "perfect child" by any means but you always respected hard work, dedication and recognized that we all make mistakes.

Retired as a MERGE sergeant in '08 and tried to pass on the integrity and ethics I learned over the years to those I led.

It is too bad that the current Mayor and City Manager have neither integrity nor ethics.

Chief McNamara's view

Chief McNamara has a reputation for “telling it like it is” and that I respect. The current mayor has vilified public safety to the residents in order to plant his feet firmly on the national political stage as the savior of local government. A selfish act. The local newspaper has joined the call in order to quite simply sell more papers. As the chief indicated, other fiscal decisions contributed to the financial quagmire facing the city, with the most prominent but the least discussed being the ill-advised, selfish use of Redevelopment Agency money and the enormous debt incurred—on the order of $3 billion dollars. The city must pay this debt first and foremost which necessitates beginning each fiscal year at least $35 million in the red. Providing public safety is the only requirement of local government—not parks, not libraries, not community centers, Public Safety. Reed proclaims “transparency in government” as his mantra, it is a blatant lie—transparency does not exist within the San Jose City Council under Reed's rule.

Gene Phillips
SJPD (retired)

Chief McNamara's comments

Chief McNamara's are quite to the point. It seems that in today's political climate it is always easier to blame the public employee's unions and in particular public safety unions for the public agencies budget deficits. Public safety and public works are in my opinion the only services which are essential in our cities, counties and the state. I expect my government to provide Public safety and maintain our public infrastructure. It seems that we as citizens of California and it's various municipalities have become far too dependant on "Government" to provide everything we need or desire without a thought as to how to pay for them. Public Safety is a difficult and dangerous job,our Police Officers and Fire Fighters deserve the pensions they negoiated, worked for and contributed into for their duration of service.

Hope

I hope the Chief's essay is published in more public media outlets, so that others can learn this inportant lesson.

Former Chief McNamara's Article

This problem began long before now and has become so volatile that the elected leaders had to blame someone for their economic incompetence. The sad thing about it is, the employees have to pay for it!

I now reside in southern California and have a friend on the Chino, CA city council. He has reviewed the emails and media blasts (On both sides). He has been adamant that the elected leaders would have NEVER demeaned their officers or city employees in this fashion. He was shocked when I explained to him that one of the main players in this situation was a retired and "disabled" police officer, who draws a paycheck from the very system that he is intent on destroying.

He also went on to say that their small city of 80,000, has a 20+ million dollar surplus, all the time paying 100% of the officers contribution to the P.E.R.S. retirement system. Maybe our city has something to learn from the little guys? Fiscal integrity is possible, just not in San Jose!

Thank you Chief McNamara for a direct and informative article.

Greg Raymond # 2624

In response

Chief,

You are right on with the climate of our department and our struggles with the City. I worked many years for you and your insight and ability to forcast police tactics and procedures before others, made us the great department that we used to be. Many of us did not always agree with you, but your leadership was never in question. You trully are missed Chief!

Respectfully,

Paul Gardner
SJPD retired