San Jose police struggle with staffing shortage


San Jose police are continuing to struggle with filling patrol shifts, but city leaders said the passage of a November ballot measure can help boost staffing levels.

The department only has 806 officers available after counting out vacancies, recruits, and staff either on leave or disability, police Chief Eddie Garcia said in an update about the officer shortage at today’s City Council meeting.

San Jose police patrol a city of more than a million residents, but have fewer officers than smaller cities like San Francisco that has about 2,100 officers, Garcia said.

In a 10-1 vote, the council voted to accept the reports related to the low police patrol staffing levels.

Many officers continue to work mandatory overtime that has impeded response times and affected their performance levels, Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

To increase the number of officers in the department, city leaders are depending on the passage of Measure F in November that would put an end to pension reform Measure B passed by voters in 2012 that led many city employees to resign.

Measure F would save the city more than $3 billion over the next 30 years by implementing alternative settlement framework on employee retirement plans, city officials said.

If Measure F fails, the department foresees an average of 12 recruits in its academy, five to six resignations per month and the number of officers dwindling down to less than 700 in a few years, Garcia said.

Should Measure F receive enough votes, the department estimates building up to more than 1,200 officers by 2020 and increasing recruits to 45 per class, according to Garcia.

“We would level off and begin to grow again,” the chief said.

There have been 485 sworn officers who have left the department since 2012, Garcia said.

Average police response times in the past four years have been behind by about a minute for Priority 1 calls and ranged from one to 10 minutes for Priority 2 calls, according to data from police.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia identified five ways to rebuild the Police Department: upping recruitment, keeping current employees, providing incentives to attract lateral officers, bringing back officers who left due to the decreased benefits from Measure B and offering a better retirement package.

Three police recruits for this month’s academy have left for better offers from other agencies and brought down the class number to 34, but that was much better compared to 17 recruits in the June academy, according to Deputy Chief Michael Knox.

One of the main strategies police are using in recruiting officers is mentorship through workshops, seminars and one-on-one sessions, in addition to hosting women in law enforcement conferences, Knox said.

The department has explored potential partnerships with the California Highway Patrol and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office to assist in filling shifts by request from City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio last year, but both agencies are also experiencing their own staffing shortages, Garcia said.

The sheriff’s office would be the first agency the police would have to ask for help under Santa Clara County protocol for police services to address limited, specific needs, according to Garcia.

With the CHP, the department would have to ask for mutual aid before the agency considers providing them assistance with policing, Garcia said.

A report last month from the City Auditor’s Office showed overtime expenses tripled from $11 million to $36 million and the added hours have led to officer fatigue, City Auditor Sharon Erickson said.

In a typical week, an officer works an additional eight and a half hours on a weekly basis, she said.

The number of vacancies spiked from 20 in 2008 to nearly 200 as of last month, according to Erickson.

Sworn officers have had more work on their plates, with an average employee clocking 225 overtime hours in 2008 and 450 overtime hours last year, Erickson said.

The office is recommending the department look at its sick leave policy, as many officers are using the time in lieu of vacation or compensation time, according to Erickson.

The report also indicated that the city should take another look at its policies for event reimbursement to provide police services and consider possible exceptions. The city spent $1.8 million to pay for police overtime at special events in the past five years, Erickson said.

About $860,000 was spent to pay overtime for police staffing at Super Bowl 50 events earlier this year, according to Erickson.

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