SAN JOSE, CA – Amid a hot mayoral race last year, Mayor Sam Liccardo pledged he would “insist” that the city’s next police contract require officers who leave San Jose within several years of graduating from the police academy to pay back a portion of their training costs.
But a one-year tentative agreement with the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, expected to earn unanimous approval at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, makes no mention of this provision.
Liccardo argued during the campaign that, by having the departing officers or their hiring agencies swallow a percentage of training costs, San Jose would recoup some of the estimated $170,000 per person it pours into recruiting, training and educating police officers.
“We would all rather not see our tax dollars used to send San Jose’s finest patrolling the streets of Los Gatos or Palo Alto,” Liccardo wrote in his campaign book, “Safer City, Smarter Government.”
Liccardo now says he had a change of heart after speaking with assistant police chief Eddie Garcia in January, just weeks after taking office as mayor.
“We talked about what we want in this contract, and Eddie made it very clear to me at this moment it would be a very bad idea to include this in the contract,” Liccardo said, “because it would be a deterrent for recruiting at a time when we are not even getting half our academy classes filled.”
The city has about 140 vacancies in the police department, and police academy classes are shrinking — going from about 40 recruits three years ago to a little more than a dozen cadets in the last class.
The first graduating class in September 2013 after the passage of the voter-approved Measure B pension reforms had 41 cadets. Of those, only 14 remain, with most officers having left for jobs in Mountain View, Los Gatos and Hayward.
But Liccardo said asking recruits to cough up some training costs if they leave is still a viable option and could be discussed next year when the POA renews its contract.
“Given the short tenure of the contract, I think we have another bite at this apple,” he said.
The proposal from the mayor’s campaign book would have applied to officers who leave within five years, though that number was provisional and could change if the city pursues the idea in the future.
Tom Saggau, spokesman for the police union, said the idea was proposed at a time when every elected official seemed to throw out solutions for retaining officers without addressing what the union believed was the underlying problem — Measure B, a 2012 ballot initiative that scaled back employee pensions and changed disability benefits.
“It didn’t address the root cause of officers leaving,” he said. “I think it would have made things worse and motivated officers not to come here.”
In Oakland, police officers are required to pay back some training costs if they leave before five years. The policy has been in place for more than a decade, but union officials there said it’s been a roadblock to recruitment and has done little to retain cops.
“It hasn’t reduced turnover, and people are still leaving in droves,” said Oakland police Sgt. Barry Donelan, president of Oakland’s police union.
In an interview last week, San Jose Vice Mayor Rose Herrera sounded less enthusiastic than Liccardo about the issue of training investment. She said the city couldn’t get everything it wanted in the tentative police contract, but claimed that recouping training costs wasn’t even a top priority.
“I think it’s something to discuss,” Herrera said, “but the most important thing right now is to get the officers that left to come back.”
To entice former officers to return to San Jose, the tentative contract dangles a $5,000 bonus. But for the first time city officials have included a clawback — if the officers leave again before December 2016, they have to pay the money back.