Workload, low morale pushing 1 in 5 officers to retire or leave Calif. PD
"The police department is held together with duct tape and overtime," union officials said
By Robert Salonga
Bay Area News Group
SAN JOSE, Calif. — A survey of San Jose Police Department officers, released by their union amid ongoing contract negotiations with the city, indicates that their workloads and low morale are pushing nearly one in every five sworn officers to consider retiring early or leaving the agency.
Just over half of the department’s approximately 1,153 sworn officers responded to the survey released publicly Wednesday by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. Among the results reported by the union is a finding that more than 200 officers are considering leaving the department for other police agencies within the next three years, with about 60% of that number looking to depart sooner.
A union news release forecasts a looming “mass exodus,” similar to what the union asserted a decade ago amid a bitter political fight with the city over pay and pension benefits. During that battle, the department ranks dropped to around 900, a figure not seen since the mid-1980s.
This time, the union bases its harbinger on the contention that 206 officers have left the department since the start of 2021, and that police academies and lateral hires are falling far short of supplanting those losses.
City officials dispute the 206-officer figure — its records have it at 165, they say — and add that they are working to reconcile the disparate numbers. They also noted that half the figure consists of retirements, with the rest made up of other officer departures, terminations, and resignations at the academy and field-training stages.
The city also contends that it has instituted proactive hiring measures to offset the losses, and points to the addition of 20 officer positions in the new fiscal year budget, bringing the authorized officer total to 1,173. About 115 positions are unfilled or occupied by officers who are either in the academy or field training, or on some form of leave.
But the union argues that the broad figures mask the number of officers actually available for street duty, and many who are working well beyond their slated hours: “The police department is held together with duct tape and overtime.”
The survey does include results that relate to tangible effects on public safety. The results show that 93.6% of 645 officers described the department’s 911 response as inadequate. Within that respondent pool, 53.8% reported having to wait lengthy periods before backup officers could join them.
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That aligns with city audits highlighting how response times for Priority 2 police calls — the tier below major incidents like shootings that accounts for 46% of calls — averaged 22 minutes, or double the city’s 11-minute goal, a target that has not been approached in over a decade.
Another survey result found that of 115 detectives who responded, 83.5% indicated that their caseloads deprive them of the time to fully investigate crimes.
“This problem has been going on for quite some time. We are in our own 911 emergency,” union president Sean Pritchard said Wednesday.
“With our call volume, and we have fewer detectives, they simply don’t have the time,” Pritchard said of the detectives’ survey response. “They’re going to do what is minimally required to try and bring that case to resolution.”
As one might expect during contract negotiations, salary and benefits were cited by 72% as reasons for possibly leaving, according to the survey. A majority of officers, and in some instances a supermajority, cited a combination of a lack of city, department and public support.
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When asked about their sense of morale in the department, of 649 officers who responded, 77% rated it “5” or lower on a 10-point scale. The largest plurality, 24.3%, rated it a “3.” Additionally, half of those respondents doubted the department’s commitment to them.
After an inquiry from this news organization, Police Chief Anthony Mata issued a general statement about the union’s officer survey, but did not respond to any specific elements.
“These are challenging times for law enforcement, not just in San Jose but across our nation,” Mata said. “We will continue to provide our workforce, both sworn and professional staff, with the tools and resources they need to be successful, feel empowered, and grow professionally. I am proud of the great work our officers perform on a daily basis and their dedication to our community.”