SAN JOSE — In a rarely seen move reflecting the desperation of the times, the San Jose City Council declared a technical state of emergency Tuesday to give police Chief Eddie Garcia the ability to redistribute more of his officers to the city’s undermanned street patrol, a stopgap to keep intact the force’s most basic community service.
The 10-1 vote capped a contentious week since the proposal of the emergency declaration, which allows Garcia to override the current labor contract to move 47 officers in detective and specialized divisions to work street patrol. Besides dissension within the council over the propriety of using the term “emergency,” the optics of the issue took an unexpected turn when it surfaced that as many as a dozen officers are living in RVs in a city lot near police headquarters because of unpredictable overtime and extended shifts.
Mayor Sam Liccardo, while acknowledging a bevy of alternative measures discussed, concluded that none of them swiftly address the stark patrol shortage that faces them.
“We could wait weeks or wait months, but this is the only thing we can do today,” Liccardo said.
Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio cast the lone opposing vote, saying he would have supported the measure had the vote been close but opted to call attention to the cool reception to unconventional ideas to bolster the department, including seeking outside help to fortify police services.
Without the reallocation, the department predicted that unplanned extended shifts would increase by 20 percent in the next six months to 7,506 hours worth of patrol that needs to be filled. The jump is due to the number of vacant patrol positions increasing to 87 short of the prescribed 500-officer minimum. The new reallocation recovers about half of that manpower deficit; overtime, mandatory or otherwise, and extended shifts will fill the rest.
Garcia, while grateful for the council’s vote, stressed that the declaration merely keeps the department above water. The focus now turns to how to reorganize the reduced divisions and bureaus after they lose staff to patrol.
“The council gave me the resources to avoid a further crisis,” the chief said. “The priority is to answer 911 calls. We’re going to be able to provide better service, with respect to patrol.”
In perhaps another sign of how tough times are, the San Jose Police Officers’ Association aligned with the chief and signed off on temporarily conceding some of its contract protections.
“We have an emergency now that needs a solution now,” said union president Sgt. Paul Kelly, who then called out skeptics of the urgency of the situation. “What number of officers does our department have to reach before it is an emergency?”
The emergency declaration was pushed because the department’s last shift bid — in which officers apply for various assignments in SJPD under terms of their collective bargaining agreement — would have to be voided and redone before it takes effect Sept. 11, precluding the normal meet-and-confer talks that would typically occur when work conditions are summarily changed. The new bid would entail fewer investigative and specialized positions and the 47 additional patrol positions.
But a contingent of council members saw the police pressure as part of an ongoing campaign for the passage of Measure F, which would reverse several austerity measures and benefit reductions that voters implemented four years ago to rein in spiraling pension costs. The police union and department contend that the ensuing political battle helped drive an officer exodus that shrunk the force by a third over the past eight years to around 900 officers today.
Garcia, in his presentation to the council, noted that today’s authorized staffing level of 1,109 officers — which indicated available spots, not actual officers — is the same as it was in 1986 when the city’s population was over 40 percent smaller.
Councilman Tam Nguyen, who had voiced concern about the optics of declaring an emergency, appeared swayed by the arguments made Tuesday about the necessity of the move. But reflecting on the years-long shrinking of SJPD, he also questioned why such an emergency state wasn’t proposed earlier.
“This is a long-term crisis we should have dealt with a long time ago,” Nguyen said.
Garcia was frank in his response, alluding to the clarity of hindsight: “We probably should have declared this two or three years ago.”
Measure F, and the landmark city-union mediation agreement that it’s based on, has since been beset by legal challenges by taxpayer advocates. One of those challenges, focusing on ballot measure language, was addressed by a court order last week reaching a compromise in that language.
City leaders have also sparred over alternatives to the emergency declaration, including Oliverio, who revived a plan, proposed several times, to bolster the understaffed police force with officers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol.
Besides being summarily dismissed by the police department and union, on Monday, Sheriff Laurie Smith addressed the proposal in a letter to the city capped by the following: “I certainly will entertain any mutual aid request and provide whatever resources necessary to meet our mutual aid requirements, but to provide resources to fill 348 10-hour shifts per week is a nonsensical idea unworthy of any further attention.”
Oliverio did not break stride and restated his support for exploring outside help as the department rebuilds.
“We’re going to need something to bridge that gap over time,” he said. “We might as well start now.”
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.
WHAT THE ’emergency’ means
The San Jose City Council’s vote Tuesday to declare a state of emergency is a technical maneuver that allows police Chief Eddie Garcia to override the collective-bargaining agreement with the San Jose Police Officers’ Association and immediately move to reallocate officers from investigative and specialized units to bolster an undermanned street patrol. It constitutes a change in work conditions that under normal circumstances would be subject to meet-and-confer negotiations, which officials argued would take too long given the urgency to keep patrol staffing at minimum levels.