San Jose calls for more police amid staffing shortages
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan is seen at a news conference at Shady Oaks Park in San Jose on April 3, 2023. Mahan, along with Police Chief Anthony Mata, right, called for doubling the rate of hiring police officers in the city. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    San Jose is planning on funding 31 new positions in the police department despite struggling to fill more than 100 existing vacancies.

    The city manager proposed last week spending $2.9 million in the next fiscal year to create 31 new staff positions within San Jose Police Department, ranging from regular beat cops and community service officers to specialized investigative positions. The city is looking to spend $1.3 million on hiring bonuses as well as other incentives to recruit and retain officers. If approved, these new vacancies would add to the already 114 unfilled positions in the police department, which have fluctuated over the last few years. Although the overall goal of staffing up sounds simple, SJPD has historically failed to do just that.

    The hope this time around is that by adding these new positions, it will signal to residents and visitors that San Jose is committed to supporting and growing the police department, Heather Randol, deputy chief of the SJPD bureau of administration, told San José Spotlight.

    “That in turn creates excitement for not only people who work here, but also people considering coming here,” Randol said.

    These new hiring efforts align with Mayor Matt Mahan’s March budget message, where he said increasing police staffing is his “top priority” for the department.

    “We have to recruit and hire faster, and ensure that we retain the officers we have. This budget does just that,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “We’re a big city and we need our police department’s staffing levels to reflect our size and needs so that we can fulfill government’s basic responsibility for keeping residents safe.”

    San Jose has struggled to expand the police department and efforts have been made over the years to remedy ongoing staffing issues. Last year, the city budgeted millions to create 20 more positions in the department, though it’s still uncertain how many have been filled. The city also announced a lateral hiring bonus program last fall, which gives $10,000 to officers who transfer to San Jose from another police department. And just a few months ago, officers saw an 3.85% increase in their base wage salary plus other benefits.

    Randol said one of San Jose’s main selling points for prospective officers is the opportunity to work in a more specialized field. In the upcoming city budget, opportunities for new hires include 17 regular officers, two sergeants, six community service officers, three crime data analysts, a new position to protect the department from hackers and a detective in the family violence unit.

    “People aren’t coming to San Jose because we make more money than everybody else around us, we don’t make the most,” she said. “They come here because of the opportunity they have within this agency for specialized units or more promotional opportunities.”

    San Jose is believed to have one of the smallest police departments of any major U.S. city, with just 1,173 sworn officers for a city of approximately 1 million residents. By comparison, San Francisco employs 2,100 sworn officers with a population of about 875,000.

    But SJPD still wrestles with the lingering problem of how to not just staff up, but retain its officers. With only 1,059 positions currently filled, San Jose Police Officers’ Association spokesperson Tom Saggau said the shortage has had profound impact on slowed police response times and overall public safety. He said the ultimate goal is to get San Jose back to the 1,400 officers it had before pension reform struggles.

    “It’s going to take years, but it is a wise investment,” Saggau told San José Spotlight. “We’re in a scrub for qualified applicants, so you only have a couple of levers to pull and one of them is more money.”

    But not all residents believe more police officers equals safer city streets. Kianna Simmons, cofounder of local mutual aid nonprofit Hero Tent and member of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee, said there are hundreds of police alternatives suggested by the 31-person committee in a report to councilmembers—and the council still hasn’t considered them. The report was published in April 2022 and she said no action has been taken since. An overarching theme of the recommendations is narrowing the scope of police activity to crimes and leaving other issues to trained civilian professionals.

    Simmons said she wished the city council would listen to residents instead of “throwing more money to police.”

    “It really seems like every month there’s like a new scandal with SJPD and it’s been like that for years,” Simmons said. “We have a very flawed department and it won’t get better if we give them more money and power.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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