Report: Declining San Jose police applications reflect national trend
A San Jose police cruiser. File photo.

The San Jose Police Department is struggling with a surge in retirements and challenges in recruiting officers, according to a new report.

In the last year, 117 San Jose officers resigned, well above the 69 retirements the department estimated, according to Chief Anthony Mata. A 2020 department audit shows there are 1,149 sworn officers in the department.

“In the year ahead, the city and department will continue to look for ways to expand the hiring of qualified and diverse candidates,” Mata said in the report. “Staff will continue to work to reach our intended audiences, with a goal of providing opportunities to learn about the department and the value of work as police officers, call takers and dispatchers, as well as the reward of providing public service to our city and residents.”

Statistics of sworn officers who left SJPD during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

In police departments across the nation, officers have quit in droves due to increased criticism and scrutiny from citizens and elected officials in the wake of last summer’s racial protests. According to the New York Times, a survey of almost 200 police departments said retirements were up 45% and resignations rose by 18% from April 2020 to April 2021 compared to the previous 12 months.

Sworn officer applications have seen a steep decline in recent years, adding to recruitment problems.

Data from SJPD’s report shows that the department received 3,375 sworn applications last fiscal year. In comparison, the department received 10,063 applications in 2017-18. The report notes that part of the challenge in getting people to apply is the “need for officers to spend a significant amount of time doing work that is more akin to social work than to law enforcement.”

A chart showing the number of sworn officer applications over the past five fiscal years. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

When asked for comment, SJPD spokesperson Sgt. Christian Camarillo referred San José Spotlight back to Mata’s report.

“The narrative of what a police officer is and the occupation’s role has shifted,” said Raj Jayadev, founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform. “In some ways, I think it could be a reflection of not only individual career path decisions, but a larger reshuffling of the role of police in general. Maybe some of the PR branding that moralized the role of police officers doesn’t have the same sort of shine it used to have.”

The report is part of the department’s hiring audit and includes recruitment efforts during the pandemic, recruitment budget, communication and marketing activities, demographic data and resignation data.

The Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee will hear the report Thursday and discuss its findings.

SJPD is ramping up its hiring, aiming to bring on more diverse candidates both locally and from outside the state.

The department did not travel to recruit out of state last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, its recruiting unit gave virtual presentations to 12 community colleges and universities, including six out-of-state colleges and two California schools outside the Bay Area. The department also gave presentations at five U.S. military bases and a veterans job fair.

The recruitment efforts, which Mata praised in the report, allowed for more diverse candidates in the department, especially among women. The most recent police academy graduates were 34% female—the highest percentage of female recruits in the history of the department and a 12% increase from the previous police academy.

Male and female breakdown of the last five police academies. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

SJPD’s recruitment unit received $2.5 million for its efforts last year. Over the last five years, the department contracted with Civilian, Inc., a professional marketing firm, for advertising, including on social media. The department’s advertising contract with Civilian, Inc. expired in April.

Mata characterized the marketing results as “impressive,” saying advertisements reached the largest possible audience. For example, the report says the job website Indeed drove 74% of the trackable applications from Civilian, Inc. for the 2019-20 fiscal year. In addition, social media impressions through sites such as Facebook resulted in over 1 million impressions. The total cost for Civilian, Inc.’s services was $611,000 over five years.

“The department continues to seek new and innovative ways to enhance recruiting efforts and expand the hiring of qualified candidates,” the report said. “Every event is analyzed for its success, outreach and potential improvements in efficacy.”

The Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee meets on the third Thursday of each month at 1:30 p.m. To watch the meeting, click here.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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