San Jose audit: Police overtime skyrockets
San Jose police headquarters are pictured in this file photo. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

San Jose’s police department saw overtime hours among its staff skyrocket over the past 10 years, according to a new report released by the city auditor.

According to the report, overtime hours have increased 300% over the past decade and now account for 10% of the department’s budget. It also noted the largest increase in spending has gone to retirement funds, which have increased over $100 million since 2009. The San Jose City Council will receive a report based on the audit at its Tuesday meeting.

The department has been reliant on overtime to get work done as its ranks have shrunk over the years. There is less staff now than there was in 2001 due to budget cuts in the 2010s, as well as an aging police force, which has resulted in a “less experienced department” than in 2011.

“Without overtime, it would be impossible to adequately staff the department,” said Paul Kelly, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. “This validates the need for the city to recruit and retain officers at a higher rate.”

Much of the same concerns about overtime were brought up in a 2016 audit, and many of them haven’t been addressed, according to the new report. Even though the department has picked up hiring, the amount of overtime used hasn’t gone down at the same rate.

Deputy County Public Defender Sajid Khan sees the increase in overtime as another example of wasteful spending to an already-bloated police budget. According to Khan, reducing procedures that he says target minority neighborhoods would free up some of the department’s budget to help with community policing.

“This is a moment for us to reimagine how we police our communities,” said Khan. “We need to ask ourselves whether it is effective and wise to send an overworked police officer to respond to an issue to which they’re not trained, where another type of professional, like a mental health professional, would be better equipped.”

Those in the department are hoping to take that into consideration, but also believe an increase in staff would help both officers and the community to respond better to serious crime. According to a San José Spotlight analysis of violent crime data from the FBI, there were approximately four violent crimes per officer in 2019. That compares similarly to other departments. In Oakland, for example, there are seven violent crimes per officer, and five per officer in San Antonio. The numbers only include crimes reported to police.

Kelly said the city needs to step up recruiting efforts to offset the number of officers resigning and retiring, which will in turn reduce response times to an “acceptable level.” Confounding factors, such as the area’s high cost of living, have made it hard to recruit staff.

Frances Edwards, a professor of public administration at San Jose University, said the overtime reliance and understaffing go hand in hand. Less staff means more current staff have to use overtime. Newer staff have to take overtime too since they are still learning administrative tasks like how to write a report.

Edwards is San Jose’s former director of the Office of Emergency Services from 1991 to 2006, a body that works closely with the city’s police and fire budget. Like all California cities, San Jose’s budget is stretched in part because it can’t tap into increasing property value, Edwards said. Proposition 13 limited how cities could value property for taxation purposes 43 years ago.

“That means that there’s a huge gap between the cost of city services an address receives and the amount they’re paying toward the cost for those services,” Edwards said.

The department’s response time for violent crimes and homicides, was eight minutes, a minute above its target time of seven minutes. For injury reports, property damage and missing people, it took San Jose police about 21 minutes to respond according to the report—more than double the target time of 11 minutes.

As a result, Kelly said, residents must wait longer for an officer to arrive to address violent crime, car thefts, break-ins and burglaries.

The department had a budget of $471.5 million in 2020.

Frustrations over the size of its budget—which amounts to about 30% of the city’s general fund—drove activists like LaToya Fernandez to campaign to reduce police presence in the city’s schools in 2020. She hoped money could be redirected to other city services.

“We have not seen those changes,” Fernandez said. “We’ve actually just seen the problem get worse.”

In a memo responding to the audit, Acting Chief of Police David Tindall wrote, “The department is looking forward to developing a long-term strategy to increase staffing, in both the sworn and civilian ranks, and working toward implementing a community policing strategy that meets the community demands and council’s priorities.”

The plan will be presented at the Mar. 16 City Council meeting. It begins at 1:30 p.m. and can be viewed on the city’s YouTube page.

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

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