Layoffs begin at San Jose Police Department

June 30, 2011 7:51:31 PM PDT
A struggling economy means city budgets are hurting, and that's true for San Jose where 67 police officers were laid off on Thursday, leaving more than 1,100 officers to patrol a city of more than one million people.

For something that had never been done before, the layoff procession had an almost-robotic rhythm.

"So much time, so much dedication," said former police officer Mayra Aquayo. "Just like that, they take our badge away."

The last assignment for the 67 officers laid off was to turn in their identification, then their badge. The procession ended with a handshake and a hug.

"I can't speak for everyone here, but I think everyone is sad, frustrated (and) a little angry about what's going on," former officer Pierre Nguyen said.

The police layoffs are the first in San Jose's history. Union members agreed to a 10 percent cut in salary that saved 156 jobs, but it wasn't enough to save everyone.

"It's a slap in the face," said former police officer Fabian Wilkenson. "It's very disheartening."

San Jose's mayor blames out of control pension costs that left city leaders with no-win options.

"I'm not happy. Police officers aren't happy. The Chief isn't happy," said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. "We should be hiring officers, not cutting them or laying them off."

The message from the union is that fewer officers will equal more cried. There have been 28 murders this year in San Jose, more than all of the murders in 2010, and gang violence is on the rise.

"Those are the people who commit violent crimes in San Jose, and they know we are not here anymore," said former officer Wiley Griffin-Bagno. "It is going to affect everybody here."

The police chief says he will restructure the department to put more officers on patrol. Some have already signed with other law enforcement agencies, while others are still looking for work.

"I have a child and a wife," former officer Carlos Solis said, "so I have to do whatever I can, whatever that means, to take care of my family and find employment elsewhere."

If San Jose is able to rehire any officers, Aquayo said she would be happy to stand in that line.

"I love the city of San Jose," Aquayo said. "I feel like I should stay here. It's home."

Many of the officers let go on Thursday have signed up to become volunteer reserve officers. Those reserve officers will volunteer 16 hours of their time in a month with the hopes that some jobs will open up.


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