Newly-approved San Jose police union contract leaves door open for changes
San Jose Police Officers Association president Paul Kelly is pictured in this file photo. Photo courtesy of San Jose Police Officers Association.

    Despite calls for increased accountability and defunding of the police department, the San Jose City Council extended its contract with the Police Officers’ Association for another year with no changes — at least for now.

    “The conversation has to continue,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, who is himself a reserve police officer.

    It was not necessary to renew the contract once it expired at the end of June, according to Jennifer Schembri, the city’s director of human resources. But having one in place provides a sense of certainty to the city and to police officers, she said.

    The compensation and policies agreement, approved two weeks ago and valid until June 30, maintains the current wages, benefits and policies. However, two reopeners were placed in the contract to allow the union and city to renegotiate compensation and policies.

    A reopener is a part of a contract allowing either party to renegotiate a specific provision, according to Tom Saggau, spokesman for Paul Kelly, president of the police union.

    “In this instance, the (police union) has a reopener on wages and the city has a reopener on reforms/improvements for the department,” Saggau said.

    About a dozen residents emailed councilmembers to request they vote against the contract.

    “It is imperative that we refrain from locking the city into an agreement that could prevent us from making sweeping changes to the San Jose Police Department,” said Kathryn Hedges.

    Many residents said the contract should be renegotiated in light of officers’ use of force during the George Floyd protests, racist remarks on Facebook, and other issues.

    “Approval of a labor agreement with SJPD at this time without extensive review (and) amendments to its accountability provisions as they relate to racist comments and other race-related public safety issues is premature and disrespectful,” said resident Mary Helen Doherty.

    Approval of the agreement initially was placed on the consent calendar, which contains items that often are approved in a collective, single vote without discussion.

    Peralez said the Rules and Open Government Committee — composed of Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and councilmembers Sylvia Arenas, Dev Davis and Johnny Khamis — placed the agreement on the consent calendar, but the council pulled the item for a brief discussion.

    “There wasn’t really substantial elements in the agreement — no pay raise and no additional benefits — that really warranted it to not be on the consent calendar,” Jones said.

    At least three residents wrote to the council asking them to consider defunding the police department next year. Peralez said that’s not a bad idea.

    “We shouldn’t be so afraid of (the phrase) ‘defund the police,’” Peralez said. “There are elements that we fund (police) to do that they shouldn’t do.”

    Peralez said it is not appropriate for cities to use police officers as school disciplinarians, mental health specialists and social workers.

    “We should be prioritizing those dollars to get the right people in our society to address some of these social issues,” Peralez said. “Should we use police officers as a safety net catch-all for every one of society’s problems?”

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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