Due to the structural budget deficit and the decline of tax revenues coming into the city, the January police academy has been postponed indefinitely. By postponing the academy the city saves money but risks neighborhood safety.
To be fair, it is a balancing act of what you would like to provide and what money you actually have on hand. However as I and others have pointed out, the city continues to spend money on items that are not in the city charter. In addition it does not require cuts in these “nice-to-have” items, as our core city departments have done in the past and must do again now. This is clearly problematic.
I think we all understand that a police force is expensive, but it is important to have fully vetted and qualified police candidates who provide safety and trust to San Jose residents. Other positions in our city may have an abundance of qualified candidates who apply, but when it comes to police there is a smaller pool with far fewer qualified applicants. It is a position that deserves to paid well, and within the limits of what taxpayers can afford. With that said, other city staff provide value to the organization and residents, but police put their life on the line at any given moment. One can be cynical about the old police doughnut-shop stereotype but in reality police are killed in this country every few days so there is inherent risk. (Click this link to see a report illustrating that fact.)
The problem with pushing out the new police academy class is that we are trying to keep up with retirements, not add additional police but just keep up. We have 80 officers retiring this year (some due to low morale) and the same number next year. It takes 18 months to get a police recruit out on the street. Our police force, much like our professional city staff, is starting to peak on retirements. There will be massive turnover in the next five to eight years for the entire city workforce.
This turnover is why 2nd Tier Pensions (benefits taxpayers can actually afford) for new hires is so important to do now. So by pushing out the academy the ratio of police to residents will decrease even more. What does that mean to you? Well maybe it is fewer police officers that are giving out speeding tickets in our neighborhoods. Maybe it is fewer officers investigating a homicide, rape or burglary. Maybe it is fewer police working on gang prevention and suppression. Certainly it will lead to more police overtime which is an additional variable cost that is tough to budget.
The Council has discretion to ensure that a police academy does occur now, as it only takes six votes. The Council in the short term could simply allocate $4.5 million from the anti-tobacco funds (Healthy Neighborhood Venture Fund) and designate the money towards the police academy for 45 new officers. We have $7.8 million in this fund that has not been spent and could be directed on anything the Council wants.
Others would like to consider using these same funds to allow for more affordable housing and others would like to keep the status quo and continue to fund charities/non-profits which are not in our city charter. The remaining funds could be part of the longer term strategy to hire civilians to swap out police officers from desk duty and get them back on the street. The Police Chief, City Manager and City Auditor agree on this as stated in the report linked here.
I cannot be everything to everyone nor can the City be everything to everyone. We have to make choices that inevitably have trade-offs and make some unhappy. I was elected to vote on issues and make tough choices.
Here is a link that summarizes the peak year, recent year, and projected year performance for the City’s major revenues. Scroll to the right for big negative numbers.