San Jose is ready to bring back police foot patrols to address rising safety concerns and build trust with residents, a service that has not gotten consistent funding for decades.
The City Council unanimously approved a proposal from Mayor Sam Liccardo last month to fund 16 police to patrol San Jose streets. The program, which costs nearly $3.7 million, is part of the mayor’s efforts to rebuild the police department.
The program will add four permanent foot patrol officers to each police division in the city—with the focus on the downtown core, dense residential neighborhoods and business corridors. SJPD has four divisions, including central/downtown, Foothill, Southern and Western.
“Thanks to this year’s budget, for the first time in decades, San Jose will have dedicated walking beats in every police district, and added foot patrols to high crime areas and downtown focused on street outreach, renewing our commitment to community policing in San Jose,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight.
The San Jose Police Department is the most thinly-staffed law enforcement department of any major U.S. metropolis, city officials said. The chronic staffing shortages in the department have intensified over the past decade from budget cuts. Increases in population and calls for service have also resulted in rising demand for police.
Police officials and residents hope the program will help law enforcement build relationships with the communities they serve, further advancing community-based policing.
“Foot patrols are significant because, by design, they are made to interact on a face-to-face basis with community members, local businesses and visitors to the area,” SJPD spokesperson Steve Aponte told San José Spotlight.
San Jose expects the new officers to start patrolling in a year, as hiring and training will take at least 12 months, Aponte said. The city will rely on current officers to pilot the program this year. The City Council budgeted $900,000 in overtime funding to accommodate this first year need.
The funding also includes $632,000 to purchase eight patrol vehicles, $186,192 in equipment for the new officers and $67,536 for other supplies, budget documents show.
A game-changer for downtown
Councilmember Dev Davis, who has long called for more police officers, said the captains of each division will decide where officers will patrol on foot. The city also has plans to use data to prioritize high crime areas.
“When we have done walks with SJPD in the past, in our business corridors, they are always very well received,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “It’s really a way to get the community and the police department working together and to understand each other.”
Downtown leaders and residents are excited about the foot patrol program, calling it long overdue. The issue came to a boiling point in April after an unhoused person assaulted a San Jose Downtown Association worker while cleaning graffiti.
Downtown San Jose’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has also been grim and economically lagging, a new city report shows. Months-long shelter-in-place orders led longtime businesses to close. With tech workers still working remotely, restaurants and bars continuing to suffer, and people are not comfortable walking downtown, a neighborhood association leader said.
“This is going to be a significant change for the downtown core,” Elizabeth Chien-Hale, president of the San Jose Downtown Residents Association, told San José Spotlight. “I don’t think downtown is going to be revived until we can promise people that it is clean and safe.”
Businesses don’t want to move into downtown because of safety issues, Chien-Hale added. She hopes the city will dedicate more officers in the downtown core.
Scott Knies, CEO of the San Jose Downtown Association, said the business group has been hiring SJPD officers to walk the downtown core prior to the program. He’s disappointed the city will have to wait a year for foot patrols to be fully implemented.
“We’re really optimistic that the level of interaction with the community will increase with the foot patrol concept,” Knies told San José Spotlight, adding he hopes to see more collaboration between the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and San Jose State campus police as well. “I just wish we could (start) the services up quicker.”
Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, is skeptical of the program, citing the city’s issue with hiring and retaining police officers.
“We feel a little bit frustrated because it always sounds good on paper, but where are these bodies gonna come from?” Saggau told San José Spotlight, adding he worries the city will cut back on other services to prioritize foot patrols.
District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez, representing downtown, said the city has improved its retention issue and is working to hire new officers for the program.
“We’re not losing them at the same rate that we were five years ago, but hiring has gotten more challenging indeed,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “It’s a reality that we may not be fully prepared to permanently staff these new 16 positions next year.”