Bellucci: Massive developments threaten public safety services

More. Bigger. Higher. These are the words crammed into the press releases of Silicon Valley’s largest employers. The pace of development is startling. It all sounds so exciting, but we should temper that excitement and realistically examine the impacts of development.

There’s an old adage, “failing to plan, is planning to fail.” It’s sage advice that certainly applies to Silicon Valley cities today.  What’s lost in all the hype is that our cities’ infrastructure cannot handle such rapid growth, especially when it comes to public safety services. Here is the grim reality. Most police departments struggle to hire enough new officers to replace those who leave on a yearly basis. This is a national problem.

Recruitment for quality officers is hyper competitive. The Seattle Police Department is offering $15,000 signing bonuses for experienced officers to jump ship from their current post to the SPD. Closer to home, the Monterey Police Department just announced a $20,000 signing bonus for laterals. Why? Supply and demand.

Google recently announced a new development partner to build over 15,000 new homes in Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose. Massive developments such as Google’s inevitably lead to more calls for police, fire and medical emergencies. It means more times a fire rig rushes to a heart attack patient or a police officer is dispatched to a robbery.

No one, however, is truly analyzing the impacts of these “redevelopment” proposals. Plans are moving forward on assumptions that most of the growth in calls for service can be handled by existing capacity. Those assumptions are wrong.

Last year the city of Sunnyvale commissioned a study on fire and medical response times for the Department of Public Safety (DPS). It found that during commute time, DPS could not meet our medical response time goals for 30% of the city and for major fires it was 48% of the city. The southern portion of Sunnyvale, which borders Apple’s new campus, is by far the hardest hit during commute hours. Also, consider that auto burglaries in Sunnyvale are on pace this year to double last year’s total. How will we be able to investigate more crimes without more staff?

It’s not a complicated algorithm. More people and cars mean more calls for service, traffic and longer response times. Unfortunately, these capacity issues are not being addressed.

In Sunnyvale, where we double as police officers and firefighters, we have been unable to fill all of our positions for more than five years. The current staffing levels are based on what our current demand levels were, not Google-size levels.

There is no funding mechanism in place to address the increased police and fire service demand caused by Silicon Valley development. Even if there were, there is no concerted strategy about how to recruit, hire, train and retain the expanded workforce needed to serve the mega corporate communities being built.

Consider this, it takes most police departments over 18 months to get a new officer “street ready.” In Sunnyvale, it takes over two years as we must train a recruit to be a fully functioning police officer, firefighter and EMT. So, anyone hired today cannot patrol their own beat until 2022.

When you look at the prohibitive cost-of-living and the negative narrative pushed about law enforcement, it does not take a Stanford grad to figure out that we have a real problem. As Silicon Valley turns a blind eye to this issue, more officers are retiring with no one filling their boots. The problem gets progressively worse. It’s time to put the pom poms down and get to work on solutions.

Frank Bellucci is a Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer and president of the Sunnyvale Public Safety Officers Association, which represents front-line public safety officers and emergency dispatchers in the city of Sunnyvale. 

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