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Sheriff's services may bolster dwindling Calif. police force

With an eye to stock the city's draining pool of officers, Santa Clara County may offer the services of sheriff's deputies to help temporarily cope

By Eric Kurhi
San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif.  With an eye to stock the city's draining  and slow to replenish  pool of police officers, Santa Clara County may offer the services of sheriff's deputies to help temporarily cope with the ongoing blue outflow.

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider reaching out to San Jose city officials to facilitate an effort that would use unspent police funds to pay for help from sheriff's deputies. The move would be to temporarily cope with the ongoing exodus until San Jose's own force is replenished.

"San Jose has budgeted funds well in excess of the current law enforcement personnel in the department, resulting in funded, unfilled positions," reads the staff report for the proposal, sponsored by current supervisor and mayoral candidate Dave Cortese.

Cortese said "it's an idea that's been kicked around for a while" by local government officials looking at various scenarios that could play out after austerity and pension reform measures at the Police Department started being implemented in 2008.

Councilman Sam Liccardo, who is also a mayoral candidate, said Friday that while he hadn't heard of the county's latest consideration, he agreed it is not a new idea. He pointed to his successful efforts for additional sheriff's patrols downtown through its contract with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority as well as a failed drive to switch the force at the airport from city to county in 2011.

"It's something that in many ways is already being done," he said. "If it means more people with badges on the streets, I'm for it."

'Intriguing Idea'
The work would come on a contract basis, in the same manner the Sheriff's Office provides services to Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos Hills, the Superior Court system, VTA and Stanford University.

The deputies could target areas of the city near stretches already patrolled by the county, such as transit lines and unincorporated pockets. The report also states the city could tap the county's investigators to help solve crimes, comparing it with the current contract agreement between county and city fire departments for bordering areas.

Sgt. Jim Unland, president of San Jose's police officers union  which has endorsed Cortese for mayor  called the plan an "intriguing idea in that it seems to be modeling the regionalization concept that fire does so well."

However, he said it's no long-term solution to the needed restoration of San Jose's own police force. Last month, city projections showed the number of street-ready cops could dwindle to 879 in two years, down from 1,400 before the budget cuts and pension reform led to layoffs and departures. Currently, there are 970 street-ready officers, with about 906 deployed.

"If the idea is to shift some of that stress onto the sheriff," Unland said. "They can only do it for so long as well."

Funding And People
While there have been efforts to stanch the departures, including a restoration of pay to 2009 levels and bringing back police academies, the lack of interest in the most recent academy shows the problem remains, Cortese said.

He said the idea to bring in deputies is "common sense" because the city has funding for positions that are not being filled.

"With only 29 recruits in the academy, it is unlikely they're going to be using all of it, so it looks like they have funding and we have people," he said. "It's a good idea."

Cortese added that San Jose is not an island  increased crime within city limits ultimately affects surrounding areas, making it a regional concern.

If approved, the board will ask staff to approach San Jose and return on April 29 with a report on the city's interest and an initial feasibility study.

San Jose and police officials did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.

Copyright 2014 the San Jose Mercury News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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