SAN JOSE, Calif. --Protecting the people of San Jose from crime was the focus of two separate public forums Tuesday night. With violent crime rising, police response times doing the same, and the chief suddenly resigning, there was a lot to talk about. City leaders discussed the problems at one gathering, while the police union held another.
The special study session at city hall focused on what to do about San Jose's shrinking and struggling police department.City Manager Debra Figone asked, "How do we protect the safety of our residents and neighborhoods in the face of inadequate resources?" The one leading the effort is Chief Chris Moore. But he announced his early retirement Monday, after 18 months on the job. This comes as the city deals with a spike in crime. In August, there were nine homicides in just 11 days. The chief pointed out that gang crimes are getting more violent, "We're seeing guns used where we may have seen knives or fists used in the past. And when you have guns involved, you're more likely to see fatalities." Residents also learned the police department's response time to violent crimes is getting longer, nearly seven minutes. The goal is six, "We have a lot fewer officers on the streets and the time it's taken them to get to calls has increased dramatically," said James Gonzalez with the San Jose Police Officer's Association. The department has just over 1,000 police officers. That's 400 fewer than four years ago. On Tuesday the San Jose Police Officers Union held a separate community meeting to help residents protect themselves against crime. Many members blamed pay cuts, layoffs, and bad morale for low staffing levels and the rise in crime. At city hall Mayor Chuck Reed disagreed, blaming low staffing on rising pension costs, "It would take $21 million to give the police the raise they want to do that we'd have to close all the libraries." The mayor says budget shortfalls have caused the staffing problems, and he wants to use more reservists to pick up the slack. His opponents disagree. "He makes it seem like it's either or, you only have 2 choices, and it's absolutely not true," City Councilmember Ash Kalra said. "We stop making ourselves the least competitive place to work, we stop making ourselves unattractive to police officers." In the meantime, residents just want a safer San Jose, "What a great police department we have. They are in need of help too," resident Robert Sandoval said. The department hopes to add 15 officers in December and another 45 in June of next year.