San Jose police union says exodus of officers puts public safety at risk

The San Jose police officers union said an ongoing mass exodus will eventually end up impacting public safety.

"This department is in crisis. We are experiencing our emergency. Calling 911 for help, and there is no extra help," said Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association.

He made that assessment Wednesday during an interview with KTVU.

Pritchard pointed to a recently completed survey of 680 union San Jose police officers. It showed 156 officers plan to leave the department in the next 24 months. This, on top of 206 that have parted ways since January 2021.

The reasons behind the departures range from retirement, termination, health issues, and death.

Pritchard said the city’s attempts to recruit and retain new blood falls far short of current staffing needs. He said on a good day, the department can muster 950 street-ready officers. But it should have more than 2,000 at the ready each day.

"The city leaders are creating a false sense of security. They are gambling with the security of the residents or our city," said Pritchard. "It’s further creating a dire situation in this city."

Mayor Sam Liccardo responded to the claim at City Hall later in the day.

"The officers that are represented by the police union are paid on average $189,000 a year," he said.

Liccardo continued that higher pay has helped the city add 225 police officers over the past five years.

He said there’s a 3% vacancy rate, and that only 37 officers have resigned. The rest have either retired, moved to another agency, or been terminated.

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Liccardo believes the union is trying to leverage its power during contract negotiations, by asking for an average 7% annual raise plus a $5,000 signing bonus.

"This department, no matter how you cut it, according to pay, is the third highest among the 17 big departments," the mayor said.

Pritchard responded and said, "We can no longer allow city officials to play with the numbers."

While the back and forth between the union and city plays out, it will likely fall to the next major to live with the fallout.

"One of the most important things the next mayor will do is stabilizing the city and making sure it’s safe again," said Cindy Chavez, member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and a mayoral candidate. "As the city has continued to grow, their ranks have not."

Fellow mayoral candidate Matt Mahan said, "With just 11 officers per 10,000 residents, it’s critical that San Jose continue rebuilding our department. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in recent years and am committed to prioritizing police staffing increases through the budget process in the years ahead."

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv.