A Thought On San Jose’s Situation

There were two articles yesterday on the San Jose Police Department. One spoke more narrowly to the City’s flagging efforts to recruit more women as police officers. The other spoke more broadly about the Department’s retention and recruiting woes.

It’s hard to overstate how bad things in the recruitment and retention department. Thanks to pay cuts, pension benefit reductions coupled with higher employee pension contributions, and huge increases in employee health care co-payments, the Department has lost hundreds of officers over the last three years. It hasn’t helped that the former mayor, Chuck Reed, seemed to be on a permanent assault against the police union.

The results have been pretty clear. Where the City once had almost 1,400 officers, it now has 900, and 140 of those positions are vacant. Recruit classes have shrunk from 60 to 16 officers. As many as 30 officers quit the department in one 60-day period, with most heading to other law enforcement jobs. The number of female officers has dropped from 139 to 88.

It’s so bad that the new mayor, a strong political ally of former Mayor Reed, has crafted a budget that redirects $5.0 million in one-time-only money (produced by all those vacant positions) to pay bonuses so that more officers won’t leave. The mayor says that his thoughts have “pivoted” from recruitment to retention, and wants to stanch to flow of officers out of the Department.

But can this be the right strategy? I don’t think San Jose police officers go or stay based on a one-time-only bonus. From reading their posts in various forums, they want stability, an end to the hostility, and a restoration of a significant portion of the huge cuts in total compensation. None of that happens with one-time bonuses.