Neighborhood Police Patrols, and ‘Emergency’ Declarations

This Tuesday, the Council will consider whether to authorize the Police Chief to bypass state regulations to move 47 SJPD police officers to patrol from other assignments. Unfortunately, some have conflated this with some type of all-encompassing “State of Emergency” declaration one hears about after an earthquake or other disaster. It is not. Nor should it be dismissed as a mere political stunt, as some have suggested.

First, let’s be clear about what is happening: If the Council approves this proposal tomorrow, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia can disregard the results of the prior “shift bid” — a process outlined in the police union contract by which officers select patrol and investigatory assignments — in order to ensure we have enough officers on patrol.

Simply, we don’t have enough officers bidding for patrol assignments. Neighborhood patrols may not be the most glamorous of police assignments, but they’re the most essential. The patrol officer becomes the first response to an urgent 911 call, and the deterrent to street crime in our gang-impacted neighborhoods.

Over the past few years, the Chief has remedied patrol staffing shortfalls by encouraging officers to work unbid slots on patrol with overtime pay or vacation time as an incentive. A few months ago, as numbers continued to wane, the Chief instituted mandatory overtime. However, the number of full duty, street-ready officers has continued to decline so severely — from over 1,300 a decade ago to about 812 today — that yawning gaps in coverage remain. The most recent shift bid, conducted weeks ago, resulted in a shortfall of 87 officers for patrol — amounting to 348 unbid shifts that require filling in any given week. Even with mandatory overtime, Chief Garcia cannot backfill 348 unbid patrol shifts each week — he must reset the bidding process, to re-assign more officers to patrol.

The problem: California law — namely, the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act — mandates that Chief Garcia follow the outcome of the bidding process set out in the contract, except in cases of “emergency.” Police union leaders agree on the necessity of invoking this “emergency” provision, because following state-minded “meet and confer” requirements would impose months of delay. So, Tuesday’s vote will give the Chief the discretion he needs to assign officers where they’re needed the most.

Isn’t this simply a band-aid? Yes, it is. Until the Police Department can aggressively hire and rebuild again, we will continue to implement whatever short-term fixes will improve the safety of the community and of our officers.

That’s why we’re continuing to drive forward with multiple efforts to improve recruitment, hiring and retention. We resolved wage negotiations last year to bring officer pay closer to the average for comparable Bay Area cities. SJPD brass has crafted an aggressive recruitment and retention strategy, including elements that will enable veterans to use their military experience to help satisfy SJPD’s high educational requirements, and offering small bonuses to existing officers who effectively recruit other qualified officers. Most importantly, after negotiating for many months with the police union and 10 other employee bargaining groups, we have reached a broad agreement to restore disability protections for officers harmed in the line of duty and make City benefits more competitive — while still preserving more than $40 million in annual taxpayer savings from Measure B and other previous retirement reforms. Voters will determine whether to approve the key elements of that agreement when Measure F reaches our ballot in November.

Some have proffered competing ideas in recent days for boosting patrol staffing. Several of these ideas — such as the expanded utilization of reserve officers — have merit but require further work. Others would have no immediate impact on patrol assignments (e.g., limiting hours spent on outside “pay jobs,” which are already limited) or would take several months to implement (e.g., using other agencies to staff the Airport). While we can, and will, consider each of these ideas, tomorrow’s vote will allow us to address the short-term staffing crisis until we can fix the hiring and recruiting problem more permanently.