SJ Politicians' Unwillingness to Compromise Cripples Public Safety
By Sgt. John Robb
On January 6th of this year, San Jose experienced its first homicide of the year. Ivan Segura was found shot to death outside his home by members of his family. Several weeks later, an elderly Almaden Valley couple was assaulted and bound during a home invasion robbery. These horrible crimes are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Reducing crime is only possible with a stable public safety work force and a community willing to partner in preventing and solving crime. Private companies without stable workforces are not profitable, cites without stable workforces are not efficient, and cities without a stable police force experience crime waves leading to unsafe neighborhoods.
Recently, taxpaying San Jose residents lost over $24 million due to officers resigning from SJPD and taking their San Jose taxpayer financed training with them to work for other departments. The cities and counties our former officers left to work for solved their budget and pension issues in a fair and legal manner, which allowed them to remain competitive. With San Jose police officers’ training costs averaging over $170,000, they have become a valuable commodity on the open labor market.
These resignations and the resulting staffing shortages have resulted in increased homicides, shootings, stabbings, armed robberies and residential burglaries. Equally important, the fallout from these resignations has injected fear in city residents, many of whom feel unprotected and underserved by our dwindling police force.
As politicians speak of hiring additional officers, it is vital that they recognize and acknowledge how we got here. They cannot continue to ignore or deny how recent council decisions have forced our city’s police officers to resign in numbers never seen before in the history of San Jose. They must stop trying to divert blame to union leadership, and accept their personal responsibility for this unnecessary crisis of their own creation. They must additionally recognize that the union—the San Jose Police Officers’ Association — and San Jose’s police officers are one, they cannot be separated.
It is time for San Jose leaders to come clean with the public, and admit that they overpromised and did not spell out the dire consequences of their recent courses of action. San Jose leaders need to additionally acknowledge that their attempt to break contracts and impose an unlawful ballot measure—Measure B--onto the city’s workforce has directly led to the current mass exodus of experienced workers. Lastly, San Jose leaders need to acknowledge that SJPOA and other unions proposed legal and substantial pension cost savings that would have allowed officers to join the very same pension plan enjoyed by the Mayor and City Council, CalPERS, and would have also allowed the city to actually begin saving money.
To those that say, “draconian measures were necessary, due to a faltering economy,” I would have you look to the vast majority of cities and counties, near and far, that negotiated and compromised in good faith with their police officers and other valued public servants. They did not experience the turmoil that San Jose has experienced. In fact, many of them are now hiring our officers and other employees.
In the pre-internet age, the difficulty in seeking new job opportunities via newspapers, phone calls, and word of mouth was quite difficult. Many officers, like myself, who were hired during the 1980’s remember a long and drawn out hiring process that involved driving to various police departments and filling out interest cards. This byzantine system resulted in officers remaining with their current agencies for most, if not all, of their careers. Further, local governments encouraged officers to remain by offering contractual pension promises that rewarded officers for their long-term commitment to a city. In doing so they saved millions in training costs, which in turn resulted in strong community ties and high quality policing. In fact, the historical record of San Jose police officer resignations has averaged just four officers per year until 2010.
Today, the advent of the Internet, social networking and an increased demand nationwide for highly trained officers, caused in part by retiring baby boomers, has changed everything. Unlike their predecessors, technology and a competitive labor market allows today’s officers to express their dissatisfaction to wage and benefit cuts—which in San Jose may exceed 46% of their gross income should Measure B ever be implemented—with their resignation. Over the last two years, instead of the historic four officer resignations per year, we now average a stunning 70 resignations per year.
As our new recruits begin to graduate from the police academy, they will soon find, like their veteran colleagues, that their skills are in high demand. A demand brought on by most cities offering competitive pay and benefits packages. Our officers are being actively recruited by cities as near as Santa Cruz and Redwood City and as far as Aurora, Colorado and Austin, Texas.
San Jose’s elected leaders and city officials need to adapt to the changing employment landscape, re-evaluate their hard line positions that have put the public's safety at risk and seek compromise. Real solutions start with an acknowledgment that we have an officer retention problem, and this is a problem for both new and veteran officers. One-sided solutions that favor ideology over reality will not stem the tide of officer resignations.
Like most people today working in private industry, remaining with one employer is a thing of the past unless the pay and benefit package is competitive. Today’s young recruits, who are even more well versed in technology than our more veteran officers, will likely follow the same path out the door that was blazed by hundreds of former San Jose officers. This is our future unless our politicians can find a way to compromise.
San Jose Police Sergeant John Robb is Vice President of the San Jose Police Officers' Association.