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San Jose Police Union Blames City Retirement Policies for Decline in Recruits at Police Academy

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San Jose’s police union today blamed a drop in recruits for the department’s police academy on city retirement policies that have put off new applicants and driven officers to leave the force, but a city spokesman defended the policies as prudent and fair. The San Jose Police Officers’ Association issued a statement claiming that only 29 of 60 slots available in the academy’s class in October had been filled as the department struggles to replace more than 400 officers who have left over the past three years. City officials have said they only budgeted for 45 spaces for this police academy, but confirmed that only 29 spaces have been filled so far.

Tom Saggau, spokesman for the union, said changes in the city’s rules granting disability retirement to officers injured in the line of duty who can no longer serve as cops are leading to a lack of qualified recruits. Before the rules took effect, based on city policies after the passage in 2012 by city voters of the Measure B pension reform measure, police and city firefighters received “guaranteed” disability retirement when they were injured, but now they may have to take other jobs with the city unrelated to police work, Saggau said. “Nowhere else in the state does that happen” aside from San Jose, Saggau said. Recruits are bypassing San Jose for academies elsewhere, thinking that “if I get hurt, I may not get taken care of” and “do I really want to drop into the mosh pit or go to another city in California?” Saggau said.

“Twenty-nine in 60 in the tenth largest city in the country is pretty pathetic,” Saggau said. San Jose’s police training facility used to have to turn away applicants until now, Saggau said. “No other police agency is having trouble recruiting,” Saggau said. The drop in recruits, coupled with 51 officer resignations in 2014, three pending resignations, 30 officer retirements and another 69 retirement applications pending, comes as the department is having a hard time responding to reports of serious crimes, which can take an average of 20 minutes in some parts of the city, according to Saggau.

“That is just bad for everybody,” he said. But David Vossbrink, spokesman for the City Manager’s office, said while the union was right there are 29 recruits, the city had budgeted for only 45 trainees, not 60, as the capacity for the third academy authorized this year. Vossbrink said it was not true that the city does not provide city police and firefighters with disability retirement if they are injured to such an extent they can no longer work for the force or at all for the city. New regulations, however, do require that if an officer is injured and cannot continue as an officer but is able bodied enough to fill another position in city government, such as crime prevention, they are offered to work that new city job, Vossbrink.

The tougher standards on disability retirement were put in force by the City Council after an auditor’s report revealed San Jose’s rate of disability retirement for police and fire employees “has been much, much higher” that other cities, to the point of abusing the retirement system, Vossbrink said. “The union comes back with the same old trope here,” Vossbrink said. He acknowledged that the city’s police force, based on the approximately 400 officers lost in recent years, is “well under” the number that the city has committed funds to in its current budget and that it is a “challenge to fill vacancies.”

“No one disputes that,” Vossbrink said. Other factors making it harder to recruit more cops is that San Jose’s overall compensation package is “not as competitive as other agencies” and Mayor Chuck Reed has maintained that the POA “is actively encouraging” recruits not to apply to the academy and “encouraging officers to leave” the force, Vossbrink said. The city itself sets higher standards than other cities for those it selects into the police academy, including the equivalent of a minimum of two years of college, because “our goal is to have a quality police force,” he said.

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