In a move that seems straight out of a mafia playbook, the union representing Santa Clara’s police officers solicited donations from businesses in exchange for police department support.
In its “2021 Business Supporter” flyer, sent to local retailers, the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association said, “Place our decal in your window, and we will direct our ‘FRIENDLY’S’’ to support you!”
The message appears to imply special treatment for those businesses displaying the decal after donating money to the union. The idea of the police department playing favorites based on donations contradicts claims that it values fairness and “will perform this service professionally and with integrity.“
Santa Clara Councilmember Anthony Becker expressed alarm over the flyer.
“I want answers to what they mean by ‘friendly’s,’” Becker said. “If they aren’t paying in, are you not going to protect them? Why would you put that on your flyer if you’re not going to really mean something out of it?”
The debacle led to Santa Clara City Hall releasing a statement saying donations made to the police union “are not related to the level of police service received.”
Officials from the police union could not be reached for comment.
The police union’s flyer suggested donations ranging from $100 to $1,500. Donors who pledged $250 or more, it said, would receive two “business supporter” decals and those contributing $1,000 or more would receive a VIP decal, toy K9 and custom plaque.
Councilmember Karen Hardy said she was “surprised and confused” by the flyer which came as the city discusses the police department’s budget.
Hardy said the city lost 88% of its highest revenue source–hotel taxes–due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid layoffs, city administrators asked department leaders to suggest cuts and Police Chief Patrick Nikolai suggested 5.3% of his operating budget. Hardy said despite a hiring freeze, the council is still looking to hire three officers and two dispatchers.
“That’s why I was surprised to see them put that out,” Hardy said. “It didn’t made sense.”
According to the city manager’s office, police employees represented by the union received a 4.7% general wage increase in December.
Another question raised by the flyer is what the requested donations will be used for. Union president Alex Torke publicly said donations made during annual campaigns are “deposited in a distinct account that is used strictly for donations to charities and charitable causes.” However, some speculate the money might be leveraged to influence elections or political causes.
“You can see…how they have used the money in the past,” said a Santa Clara City Hall insider who asked for anonymity. “A lot of their money has been used towards the PACs for political purposes.”
Becker said he would like to see a full accounting by the union of its budget.
“They don’t divulge they fund political candidates during elections,” Becker said. “I think they need to be a little more transparent about where that money’s going…and who they’re supporting with it. I’d really like to see that money going towards things we need, not political agendas.”
Becker claims some businesses told him they were directed by the police to not display his political signs during the last election cycle.
After seeing the flyer, Becker wonders if businesses were told which political candidates they could and couldn’t support.
“I actually really wonder if they scare businesses into not supporting candidates,” Becker said. “It sounds a lot like the Godfather. It’s scary.”
The union in the past has supported Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her political allies.
In 2020, the police union funded campaign mailers for City Council candidates Gillmor supported using a $25,000 donation from The Related Company, which has a massive development project up for council approval.
“That’s one reason in my campaign I was so careful,” Hardy said. “There were groups that tried to give us money and we sent it back…especially if it was development, because the perception is not good. I wanted to be very careful my decisions were not based on who supported my campaign.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]