San Jose taxpayers have doled out at least $200,000 per year to keep Mayor Sam Liccardo safe, a practice that began after San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was killed at City Hall more than four decades ago.
Liccardo, who terms out this year, is part of a long line of San Jose mayors with a security detail. At least one San Jose police officer tails him when he attends meetings and hosts news conferences. In some cases, the officer also tags along when the mayor travels out of state on city business.
San Jose has paid more than $789,000 between 2019 and this August for Liccardo’s security, a review by San José Spotlight found. No other city councilmembers have security details, according to the department.
City data shows SJPD Officer Tak Odama, who worked as Liccardo’s security detail between 2019 and 2021, made between $203,844 and $237,731 a year in base salary and overtime pay. Odama also traveled with Liccardo to Washington, D.C. twice—in 2020 for a U.S. Conference of Mayors trip and last year when Liccardo met with President Joe Biden to discuss gun violence. The two trips for the mayor’s security detail cost roughly $4,200, according to records obtained by San José Spotlight.
The city also paid $2,260 this year to send two officers with Liccardo when he went to Miami for a conference in March. Liccardo had police travel outside of the city with him only on those three trips in the last three years, according to records obtained by San José Spotlight.
The mayor’s office deferred questions to the police department on why Liccardo needed officers with him on those trips.
Liccardo traveled without his security on many other occasions. Officers didn’t escort the mayor on an all-expense-paid trip to France in July, his Ohio trip for a Conference of Mayors meeting and his Washington, D.C. trip last November.
The city declined to provide the name of Liccardo’s current security detail, citing safety reasons. San Jose has paid the unidentified officer more than $135,000 for his work through August of this year.
The decades-long practice of police protecting San Jose’s mayors began in the late 1970s after Moscone was assassinated in neighboring San Francisco, said former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. He served from 1999 to 2006.
“When I began as mayor in January 1999, there was (an) officer assigned to me,” Gonzales told San José Spotlight. “That person, in consultation with the police, would determine when and how security would be provided.”
While some might balk at the cost to taxpayers, elected officials have faced increasing threats in recent years.
Former Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc endured personal attacks from residents at public meetings, prompting two state legislators to demand permanent changes to public meeting rules. San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis was targeted earlier this year as an explosive device was found near her home.
“We live in a very different world these days (where) violence against elected officials has increased,” Gonzales said.
The mayor’s office said the police department decides when and how often to use the mayor’s security. SJPD spokesperson Christian Camarillo declined to comment, including about why officers accompanied the mayor on only certain trips outside of San Jose.
“We will not be sharing details regarding when, why, or where the mayor requires a security detail for obvious reasons,” Camarillo told San José Spotlight. “Discussing tactics and planning of dignitary security is not prudent because it would compromise his safety.”
How San Jose stacks up
San Jose, a city of 1 million residents, only provides security to its mayor. But San Diego—with a population of 1.4 million people—has a specific unit within the police department dedicated to providing similar protection to the mayor and its entire city council during public meetings and other events. Officers also accompany San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria on all out of state travel, city spokesperson Rachel Laing told San José Spotlight. San Diego spent more than $2.6 million on 12 officers in the unit last year, according to city documents.
San Francisco spent at least $2.6 million in 2020 to keep Mayor London Breed safe, according to news reports. Its police department declined to provide financial figures for the mayor’s security in 2021 or this year.
“The SFPD provides personal security for the mayor(s) and accompany (them) during public events throughout the city,” police spokesperson Robert Rueca told San José Spotlight. “When the mayor travels beyond the city borders to conduct the duties of the office, we continue to provide security and collaborate with the local law enforcement jurisdiction to ensure safe passage for our mayor(s) wherever their work brings them.”
Spokespersons for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti didn’t respond to inquiries about their practices.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.