San Jose police caught in budget cut crossfire

February 23, 2011 7:36:11 PM PST
For the first time in city history, San Jose could lay off police officers and it is a drastic step that may be taken to help balance a massive budget gap. And from this point forward, the debate over those layoffs and public safety is about to get a lot louder.

City leaders say if San Jose police officers took a 10-percent cut in pay, the department could save 112 jobs. The union says that still isn't enough to avoid the threat of another 237 layoffs, which it says is unacceptable.

"Yeah we can give them a cut in pay, but that's still not going to stop them from laying off our officers and quite frankly with our staffing we can't afford to lose one officer, let alone 237," said George Beattie, a San Jose Police Officers Association president.

The union is launching an all out public campaign to save jobs. It took out a full page newspaper ad on Wednesday and will roll out billboards and even a TV spot next week.

"A decade ago, we were the safest big city in America," said one of the ads.

Mayor Chuck Reed says with a $110 million budget deficit, a lot of puzzle pieces must fit into place to avoid any police layoffs, but says it is possible.

"I think with concessions, and some other changes with the way we handle things like sick leave payout, vacation buyback and overtime, we could avoid layoffs so that's my objective is to try to avoid layoffs," said Reed.

The city's generous policy on cashing out unused sick days is facing increased scrutiny. Last year former Police Chief Rob Davis retired with a six figure pension and a hefty check for his unused sick time.

"We can see the excesses of that, the chief leaving with a $300,000 payout. I can't defend that nor will I try so we're OK with trying to rein in some of those excesses," said San Jose Police Officers Association Vice President Jim Unland.

The next scheduled meeting between the city and the police union is Monday and the back and forth will go on for awhile. A balanced budget is due July 1.


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