San Jose is failing on promise to add more police officers
A San Jose Police Department recruiting banner hangs on W. Taylor Street. Photo by Ben Irwin.

    San Jose is off to a slow start staffing up the police department since Mayor Matt Mahan took office in January.

    Filling dozens of empty vacancies at the San Jose Police Department has been a long term goal for Mahan dating back to his time on the campaign trail. But so far it’s been an uphill battle with little success, as the city struggles with long response times to service calls and a police force unable to retain new academy recruits.

    In an attempt to close the vacancy gap, this year’s budget allocated $2.9 million toward creating 31 new staff positions and $1.3 million in hiring bonuses and strategies to add and retain officers. Mahan has plans to go out in the community and speak to prospective officers himself over the next few months.

    “These investments include technology to speed up our hiring processes and various targeted radio, print and social media marketing,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “While our best recruiters are our own officers, I will be joining the effort this fall alongside Chief (Anthony) Mata to speak to college students about the law enforcement opportunities right here in San Jose.”

    Despite the city’s recent efforts, San Jose, a city of roughly one million residents, still has one of the smallest police departments of any major U.S. city. The short-staffed police department had 1,063 sworn officers as of Aug. 4, according to the department, including 24 recruits in field training and 41 recruits in academy training.

    The police department has hired 46 new recruits who will enter the academy this year. The academy class  graduating in mid-September has lost 21% of its candidates. Another recruit has already dropped out from the class of 27 scheduled to graduate next February.

    Tom Saggau, spokesperson for San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said the recruiting numbers are disheartening but not unexpected.

    “Seeing that high number of washouts in that particular academy now is worrisome, because some drop during the academy and then another chunk drop out during field training,” Saggau told San José Spotlight. “You’re hoping that number doesn’t exceed 30%. It looks like a class is going to be north of that, which is problematic.”

    Despite the recruiting woes, Saggau said the last thing the police department needs is to lower recruitment standards.

    “We would fight very vigorously any lowering of the standards … to allow folks in that really have no business being in the profession,” Saggau said. “It’s a tough place we find ourselves in, and there’s not a lot of levers that can be pulled.”

    Recruiting challenges

    Saggau said the slow slog of recruitment is a reality born out of years of anti-police rhetoric. He said the police union is in favor of alternative response programs to all kinds of nonviolent calls, which could help recruitment, retention and response times, particularly to violent crimes.

    “We think you should send police officers to police calls, and we should send clinicians and mental health experts and trained counselors to those types of calls,” Saggau said. “San Jose hasn’t met the response times for (violent) calls in the last five or six years, and it’s gotten worse.”

    Nearly a third of San Jose police officers received complaints in 2021, a 25% increase over 2020. Reports from the San Jose Independent Police Auditor detail poor policing due to a lack of training.

    Chandra Jacquez’s father was shot and killed by a San Jose Police officer in 2015. Today she works with community organizing group Silicon Valley De-Bug, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice reform. Her job focuses on helping local families, Santa Clara County’s 988 crisis hotline and TRUST field response program for mental health nonviolent emergency calls.

    Jacquez was concerned nothing would ever change between the community and the police, that there could never be trust.

    “Now look, it’s actually happening. We’re just trying to make sure the vision for people actually getting help versus being shot and killed in a crisis is actually working,” Jacquez said.

    The police department’s vacancy rate has jumped to 9.4% — in part from the addition of new staff positions to be filled over the next two years — up from 2.56%, the city reported last August.

    “There’s a lot of folks that are tired. A lot of mandatory overtime, holdovers,” Saggau said. “We’ve got a lot of folks who would like to be a little league coach, to spend time with their family, and they end up getting screwed.”

    Saggau said retention is still an ongoing local and national issue, and affects cities with high costs of living the hardest.

    “The further officers have to live from where they work makes it more difficult to retain them,” Saggau said. “Trying to find some relief for officers, whether it’s down payment assistance or a housing stipend, something like that would be a wise investment from these cities.”

    Reverend Jeff Moore, president of Silicon Valley NAACP, agreed with Saggau saying that something needs to be done to help house San Jose’s police officers to address turnover.

    “(Living) in the community, they’d have more respect from the community,” Moore said. “(We need) grants or something to help them with housing in the local area.”

    Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.

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