San Jose: Police Academies Top 100, A Year After Fielding Seven Recruits

SAN JOSE, CA — Police Chief Eddie Garcia isn’t the type who needs a megaphone, but he was easy to hear when he addressed San Jose’s police academy recruits this time last year — all seven of them.

Monday, when Garcia made those same rounds, he made a point to ask, “Can everyone hear me?” The two academies underway — one class set for a December swear-in and another for April — assembled at the South San Jose substation outnumbered the chief by more than 100 to 1.

In short order, pay hikes and better morale have made wearing a badge for the San Jose Police Department desirable again after some lean years.

With fresh memories of last-year’s seven-member class, Garcia soaked up the welcome sight Monday that follows a decade in which the San Jose Police Department shrank by more than a third amid economic recession and an acrimonious, protracted battle over pay and retirement benefits.

“There’s nothing more positive and symbolic,” Garcia said of the robust academies. “We’re out of the darkness, and we’re rising.”

The department’s ranks hit a 30-year low last year when staffing dropped nearly 200 below its budgeted level of 1,109 officers.

According to the latest official count, SJPD’s numbers have swelled to 1,016 officers, including the two academies and new officers still in field training. After accounting for officers on disability, modified duty and military leave, the department has 818 sworn officers available for street duty.

Still, climbing past 1,000 officers, wherever they are in the training process, is a significant milestone for San Jose police. When sworn staffing dipped below 1,000 in 2015, it marked the first time that happened since the mid-1980s, when San Jose’s population was about 40 percent smaller than its current 1 million residents.

The upswing comes after a new police contract was ratified in February. The deal promised a 20-percent pay raise over 3½ years with assorted bonuses and incentives, bringing the department in line with other Bay Area police agencies who had lured away many of San Jose’s officers with more attractive compensation packages.

It’s a turnaround particularly appreciated by the SJPD recruitment unit, which has seen much more interest that officials say is a reflection of improving morale in the department.

“The mood has changed, it’s much more positive,” said unit commander Lt. Heather Randol. “We’re more competitive. And it’s a new way of recruiting we’re doing now.”

Among those new ways is an aggressive recruiting push for more women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ members of the community.

“We’re doing more outreach, more mentoring, and getting people to understand what a great department this is,” Randol said. “Now when we bring people on ride-alongs, which are one of our biggest recruiting tools, they are blown away by the camaraderie they see.”

SJPD staffing over the years

2009: 1,373
2010: 1,276
2011: 1,183
2012: 1,068
2013: 1,063
2014: 1,027
2015: 952
2016: 927
2017: 1,016

*Figures are as of July 1 of each year except for 2017, which is as of Nov. 13

Source: San Jose Police Department

San Jose still falls well short of staffing levels at most major police departments here and across the country. The national ratio of officers to residents is about 3.4 for every 1,000 residents, according to the FBI. San Jose has less than 1 officer per 1,000 residents, while Oakland fielded 1.76 officers and San Francisco staffed 2.6 officers per 1,000 residents.

San Jose has never had a high ratio in its history, but still achieved “safest big city” status in the 2000s when about 1,400 officers were on the force. In his remarks to the current academies Monday, Garcia reflected on the hope the cadets represent for the department’s ongoing rebuild.

“This has been such a long time coming. For those of us who have been through the hardest times in this department, it’s really tough not to get emotional to see you guys out here,” he said. “You are going to be the salvation of this department.”

From The San Jose Mercury News

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