Calif. police face staffing emergency

San Jose Police Department is considering declaring a state of emergency to redistribute more officers in the streets

By Robert Salonga
Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif.  In a dramatic development indicating that the chronically undermanned San Jose Police Department is not turning a corner as fast as some had hoped, the city is considering declaring a state of emergency to redistribute more officers to the streets.

The declaration is a technical move that would authorize the city to override the contract between the city and the San Jose Police Officers' Association because city administrators determined that starting next month, even with mandatory overtime, SJPD will not meet minimum staffing to patrol the city.

San Jose patrol car (Photo/Flickr Creative Commons)
San Jose patrol car (Photo/Flickr Creative Commons)

Officials from both the city and police union are scheduled to meet on the issue Monday afternoon.

A city letter sent to the union last week stated that the last shift bid -- in which officers periodically apply for various assignments in SJPD -- only amassed 413 officers for patrol, well short of the department-prescribed 500-officer minimum. 

Previous shortfalls were backfilled with overtime, but 87 officers' worth of overtime is seen as too costly both fiscally and logistically.

The city's recommendation would attempt to cut that overtime need in half by moving 47 officers from various specialized and investigative divisions to patrol. But that would require a new shift bid voids new assignments due to take effect Sept. 11 and re-open bidding, which constitutes a change in work conditions under the current labor contract and requires meet-and-confer talks with the union. The state of emergency would effectively allow the city to mandate the new work.

The declaration would mark a volatile shift in tone from earlier this year when it appeared that the city had resolved the labor strife that plagued the department and helped drive staffing from over 1,400 in 2008 down to the current total of about 900, about 800 of which are ready for street duty after accounting for disability and military leave and other exceptions.

City administrators and the union reached a pact last year that would undo most of the austerity-driven retirement and benefit reductions brought on by the 2012 voter-approved Measure B ballot initiative.

Measure B became a lightning rod in the city as SJPD continued to shrink as officers left for other Bay Area police agencies or retired earlier than forecasted. The new pact, which eventually evolved into Measure F initiative on the coming November ballot, has been sidelined from implementation by lawsuits contesting its legitimacy on the grounds that it nullifies the people's will demonstrated when they approved Measure B.

Before the legal challenges and multitude of delays, the pact was a high watermark for a department beset by labor-related morale problems. It appeared that the officer exits had bottomed out, but even a slowdown of resignations still has not been offset by small police academies, the last of which graduated seven officers. Department insiders say many prospective applicants and potential lateral hires have been waiting for the new terms to take effect before making a serious move.

And the current proposal to redistribute officers to patrol also dents what had been a hallmark of SJPD that made it relatively unique among big-city police departments, with its three-year rotating assignments producing officers who had a wealth of different kinds of policing experiences. Several Bay Area police departments are headed by former SJPD commanders.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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