City council approves hiring bonus for police officers

As San Jose faces an ongoing shortage of cops, the city is offering a new financial incentive to attract experienced officers.

The city council this week unanimously approved a $10,000 lateral hiring bonus for officers who come to San Jose from another police department. The goal is to attract more experienced officers to join the force and expand the police service. The city has allocated $150,000 for the pilot program – enough for 15 officers. It will start at the end of October.

San Jose officials pitched the idea to the San Jose Police Officer Association amid contract negotiations — which are still ongoing after months — in a bid to address some of the staffing shortages.

For years, San Jose officials lamented the police department’s dwindling personnel. This has been the main issue of the 2022 election campaign with San Jose mayoral candidates Cindy Chavez and Matt Mahan promising to beef up the police force. The contentious issue also dominated the 2016 mayoral race when then-candidate Sam Liccardo backed Measure B, a 2012 initiative to cut police pensions and led to an exodus of officers. While police budgets have grown by 50% over the past decade to $415 million – more than 15% of the general fund – staffing has fallen short.

San Jose has 1,153 sworn officers for a city of over one million people. The city recently planned 20 additional positions. By comparison, San Francisco employs 2,100 sworn officers with a population of approximately 875,000.

The San Jose Police Department is seeing fewer recruits, and those in training are dropping out or failing at the highest rate since 2021. The police union also warns that San Jose could see a mass exodus of officers over the next three years due to chronic staffing. problems. An unredacted list of officer separations obtained by San Jose Spotlight showed that 209 sworn officers — including 47 academy recruits — have left the department since January 2021.

“There’s been a lot of focus on how we’re meeting the challenge,” Liccardo said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This challenge with police recruitment is statewide and nationwide.”

Liccardo said that while he supports the new program, he fears it could become “some kind of race to the bottom” if cities compete and increase side bounties to poaching officers.

Jennifer Schembri, director of human resources and employee relations, said she doesn’t foresee that happening, particularly because a $10,000 bonus alone isn’t enough of a reason to prompt. someone to quit their job and move. But it may inspire an officer on the fence to take that leap in San Jose.

“I think San Jose offers a lot of things that other agencies don’t that would draw them here,” Schembri said. “It’s just kind of an addition to that.”

Schembri said the city is already doing a pretty good job of attracting fullbacks to the agency with six agents added this year and a few more in the works. Side officers who join on or after October 30 will receive the full $10,000 on their first birthday.

The police union is not sure the program will work.

Tom Saggau, spokesman for the San Jose Police Officer Association, said the program was a drop in the bucket. The San Jose Police Department’s vacancy rate is 2.56%, according to the city, and it’s considered one of the lowest in the region. But Saggau said the rate was irrelevant because the total number of sworn officers is far lower than it was 20 years ago and crime response times have increased.

Saggau says paying officers more money is a better plan. The union is asking for a 14% raise over the next two years and a $5,000 bonus. For the average police officer, who earns around $189,000, that would be an additional $31,000. San Jose is offering a 6% raise over the next two years, noting that officers are the highest-paid union in the city. San Jose officers are also the third-highest paid in the Bay Area police department, according to the city.

“Unfortunately, lateral inducement alone does nothing to retain officers and will not add a single cadet to our ghost town-like academies,” Saggau told San Jose Spotlight. “We encourage our city leaders to focus on why our department is chronically understaffed, the burden on our weary officers, and creating real solutions, not gimmicks, to restore police strength.”

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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