The union representing officers of the San Jose Police Department in Northern California recently reported that low morale and heavy workload conditions are causing one in five officers to consider an early retirement in the midst of a contract negotiation with the city.
Out of the 1,153 respondents to a survey by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association — about half of the agency’s total number of officers — more than 200 said they were considering retiring or leaving the department within three years.
The union said in a press release that the data indicates a “mass exodus” similar to what happened a decade ago during political battles between the union and the city over pay and pension benefits. During that period, the department’s ranks dwindled to around 900 officers.
The union is worried that another such catastrophe could come to pass, with 206 officers having already left the department since 2021, and without sufficient police academy graduates or lateral hires to make up the losses.
City officials responded by saying that their figure of police losses was at 165, not 206. They also argued that they have instituted proactive hiring measures to deal with the staffing shortages, such as by expanding the budget by adding 20 officer positions. The city also said that the police department vacancy rate is much lower compared to other city agencies and departments.
However, the union stood by their numbers, saying the city’s data fails to account for factors such as officer overtime hours and those who are available for patrols.
“The police department is held together with duct tape and overtime,” the union said.
The results of the survey showed that more than 90% of 645 officers felt the department’s 9-1-1 response was inadequate. Over 50% said they had to wait for long periods for backup to arrive.
City data also supports this claim, with Priority 2 calls (which make up 46% of all calls in the city) averaging around 22 minutes. That number is twice the city’s target response time of 11 minutes.
The survey also indicated that officers felt overwhelmed by their current caseloads. Of the 115 detectives who responded, 83.5% believed that their caseloads did not allow them to investigate crimes to their fullest.
“This problem has been going on for quite some time. We are in our own 9-1-1 emergency,” union president Sean Pritchard said.
Pritchard added that with the current volume of cases, detectives may not be able to perform their best work.
“With our call volume, and we have fewer detectives, they simply don’t have the time,” Pritchard said. “They’re going to do what is minimally required to try and bring that case to resolution.”
During the negotiations, over 70% of officers cited salary and benefits as a reason for considering leaving the department. A majority of officers also complained of a lack of support from the department, the city and the public, leading to low morale.
However, Mayor Sam Liccardo said that the union’s demands for higher pay were inappropriate, because the SJPD has the third highest average officer salary in the Bay Area at $189,000.
“The police union is understandably advocating for its members in the middle of a contract negotiation,” Liccardo explained. “It’s the city’s job to stand up for our residents, and to attract and retain officers with good wages without capitulating to union demands that our taxpayers can’t afford, as we’ve seen happen before.”