By Zachary K. Johnson
The Record, Stockton
STOCKTON, Calif. — In a race between two City Council members for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones came out this week to say a political mailer that landed in mailboxes in Stockton could hurt morale in the department and make it harder to recruit and hold onto police officers.
Jones' concern stems from a chart in a campaign mailer from City Councilwoman Kathy Miller, who is running against Vice Mayor Paul Canepa for an open seat on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. It includes a list of 99 positions in the department with the cost to the city to provide salaries and benefits for the officers.
Miller said the mailer was in response to a police unionfunded independent expenditure group that had been hitting her with attack ads that she says are distorting her record, and that the figures from 2012 show the high cost of compensation before reforms had been put in place during her time on the council.
But Jones said that the flier creates the impression that Stockton police officers are overpaid, which he said is not true. "I'm proud of the work they're doing on a daily basis," he said. "I didn't want those misleading numbers to paint them otherwise."
Jones described department morale as "fragile," and he said it was "unfortunate" that the mailer came out at a time when the department is struggling with recruitment and retention issues.
"I don't get involved in political campaigns ... (but) I really feel I must speak to this issue."
The mailer uses a chart titled "Stockton's Top 99 Police Employee Earners" as an answer to the question: "Why are police unions funding an attack on Kathy Miller?"
It's a reference to attack ads that have come out against Miller from an independent-expenditure group called Law Enforcement for a Safe San Joaquin, which has been funded by the Stockton Police Officers Association and other law enforcement organizations.
It states Miller "fought for fiscal reforms" that saved about $30,000 a year per officer. The accompanying chart lists the total compensation costs, noting it includes salary as well as overtime, sick pay and other costs to the city, including contribution to retirement plans.
Jones said many people on the list either left or are higher-ranking positions not represented by the union. Totals for retirees that year are higher than annual costs because they included the end-of-career payouts. Jones came in the No. 4 spot on the list. He said the figure for him appeared accurate.
And for the officers, the chart reflects a lot of overtime, but that is because overtime was needed to cover staffing shortages.
The truth, Jones said, is that officers are paid below the "market rate" earned by officers in the region, and to imply that they are overpaid is inaccurate and could cause some to worry that more cuts could be on the way.
"The point of using the 2012 figures was to demonstrate some of the necessary reforms the council made," Miller said, adding she appreciates Jones' position. She said the chief is "absolutely accurate" on the difference between then and now, but the numbers are accurate.
Miller said the mailer was a response to text messages, phone, radio and internet attacks from a group called Law Enforcement for a Safe San Joaquin.
One ad used a video clip taken out of context to make it appear that Miller did not support hiring more officers.
She said that distortion required a response. And the reforms have made that more affordable for the city. "It's a simple equation, you either pay officers more money, or you have more officers."
Canepa emailed a statement on the mailer, saying that reforms cutting retirement and medical benefits have made Jones' job harder, and that "irresponsible political rhetoric" makes recruitment even more difficult. The statement continues: "This mailer hurts us. I am not going to scapegoat city workers or our public safety department."
Reached by phone, Canepa declined to answer questions about the independent-expenditure group or if he agreed with the message in the group's ads targeting his opponent. "I don't want to comment on that. I don't want it to be construed one way or the other."
The mailer also includes a photo of Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva, saying that the group is "made up of the same political team and police union bosses that got Anthony Silva elected mayor."
Lee Neves, a political consultant with the group, said the ad shows Miller "is willing to say or do anything to get elected." And it's divisive, he said. "Especially now, when we need everyone rowing in the same direction."
Silva said he was surprised to see himself in the ad. "I've done a lot to stay out of that race, ... because they are both sitting colleagues of mine."
Jeff Acquistapace, Miller's consultant, said the police union wants to do more than punish Miller for being a vocal supporter of reform in the city.
"They want to send a message to all current and future elected officials: If you don't give us what we want, we'll go after you next election."
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