Change the Charter for Police Budget?

Elected officials come and go, and with that so do certain priorities. It seems that with every budget cycle, certain departments have to prove their worth and their existence. For example, San Jose spends less than half (as a percentage of budget) on information technology (IT) than other cities its size. Strategic investments in IT have the potential to improve efficiencies and save money.

Last year, I proposed in a budget memo to allocate $400,000 in one-time monies to replace the legacy Centrex ATT phone system with a VOIP system, which would save approximately $1 million each year going forward. I hope we can implement this in the coming year.

Financial support for other departments ebbs and flows as well. For example, after 9/11 no city in the USA could spend enough on fire departments. However, looking at data and day-to-day concerns from residents, we know that the fire department cannot be the number one priority when its function is narrow and limited.

Funding for police can change based on crime rates, a tragic single incident covered by the media, an incident of alleged police brutality or rising pension costs. We know police are a major factor in maintaining peace and tranquility within city jurisdictions among other factors, like the local economy, education and race relations. But why should support seesaw when something is so important as the Social Contract?

I recommend that the city should commit to a specific police budget each fiscal year. San Jose should allocate a fixed percentage of the budget to the police department that is higher than the 34.7% today of an $885.8 million general fund budget. If the budget grows then more money will flow to the police department. If the budget declines then the department has to live within its means. In a growing budget, opportunities may arise for increased staffing, increased salaries and technology purchases for officer efficiency. With a budget that declines, choices become narrower but police would always be the top priority.

An increase in police staffing could mean less individual hardship, like an officer having flexibility to take a vacation—which would not only reduce overtime but also angst. A larger police force may also lead to the potential of creating more flexibility on shifts.

As a result, no longer would a core service be reduced, as it would be locked in. The only thing asked in return is that the police force work hard and do their best each shift. An increased police force may mean not only suppressing major crimes but also returning to managing quality of life crimes and doing more investigations on child pornography, as I wrote about two weeks ago.

The city should explore and gather data from other comparable cities to determine what that fixed percentage could be. Ultimately, a fixed percentage of the police budget will require changing the city charter and the only way to do this is with an election. A fixed percentage for police would also give San Jose voters reassurance that future tax increases will make sure a certain portion of their tax dollars are spent on police.

The choice is ours if we are willing to ask the question and deal with the trade-offs. I am willing. Are you?

22 Comments

  1. PLO I could not agree more. Our police department is under funded based on cities of equal size. Staffing in other cities are almost double when their population
    is less. Our SWAT team for example has 12 full time members. They can only stay in the unit for 4 years. Every other city from #1 to # 50 has more officers by more than double.

    With what happened last week with the 12 year old child it’s unforgiving to have staffing like that. The unit was cut by 8 a year ago. The gang unit was abolished. Ect ect. A lot of cities have close to 49% of the general fund going to public safety. We are behind and it’s result is the rise in crime. We need to stop this pension fight which is a loosing battle as we are killing our employees moral which makes them less productive.

    Let’s fix fiscal problems with negotiations. Please before our city falls!!

  2. It just doesn’t fit with Reed and Figone’s concept of public safety.  You see, in a Chuck Reed world public safety is an irritant to be suffered by necessity, not desire.  Cops are just like pencils, desks and chairs or reams of paper.  They should be negotiated for at the lowest possible price and are expendable. 

    PLO, your proposal presumes that cops have value beyond Reed’s class warfare philosophy.  Your proposal presumes there is a market for poor, good and great quality policing.  Your proposal presumes that the citizens of San Jose can set aside their jealousy, bias and spit out the Reed stink bait that has moved a previously supportive populace into the realm of disgruntled envious blame seekers.  That is quite a tall order since the local news is complicit in this charade.  A noble cause but an uphill battle.

  3. Would have been good to propose this before you lost 500 cops. SJPD went from almost 1600 to 1100 and dropping steadily as every officer is looking to lateral to a new department. All California Departments pay more, have better benefits and are supported better by the council and Mayor. San Jose will spend millions to try to get back all the officers and programs it has lost under your leader, Reed.  But it great to see you thinking long term.  You are so right when you say:  We need to stop this pension fight which is a loosing battle as we are killing our employees moral which makes them less productive.  But we watching your vote and if you want to stop the pension fight then why vote with the mayor on a recent vote. One vote siding the other way would have changed things.  Maybe your next vote will tell us.

  4. While we underfund our police department (and almost all other services our city provides), budgeting by fixing percentages is what got the state into its mess.  The state is locked into so many formulas that discretion on budgets is less. 

    The city council is elected to set budgeting priorities.  Taking flexibility away from future councils will not make things better.  So how do you settle on the appropriate percentage.  Maybe it should be 40% during bad economic times.  But if the budget doubles as the economy improves, should we still allocate 40% to police?  Maybe at times like that, it would only require 30%. 

    Artificial formulas might make good politics, but they make lousy governance.

  5. Let’s see if I’ve got this right: divide the city into districts, elect a representative from each, send them to city hall to govern, and then come budget time handcuff the bastards to prevent them from squandering away our precious tax dollars.

    Not a bad idea—especially based on past performance, but it just doesn’t seem to go far enough. Why stop at police? Why not a designated percentage for fire, public works, and every other essential service traditionally provided at the municipal level? Divvy up the budget among the departments, settle on a reserve fund, and then leave the council a quarter of one-percent for buying votes, feathering their own nests, and assuaging their politically-correct desires. Sounds like a plan. In fact, it sounds like the plan many parents employ when handing out allowances to their impulsive, not-to-be-trusted, idiot children.

    That this idea’s time has come is a testament to the low quality of the vast majority of those who’ve sat on the council over these last four decades; those who’ve served during several historic booms, were blessed with an educated and professional workforce, yet managed to bring more decline to this city than did the Great Depression.

    • “Why not a designated percentage for fire, public works, and every other essential service traditionally provided at the municipal level?”

      This is absolutely brilliant!

      Index the budget for city services based on population + inflation.

      Keeps the budget cookie jar up high where our city council can’t get to it.

      Step 2.  Part time city council.

  6. What we need are council members who can actually get things done.

    Like all your other proposals, I imagine this will be just another public commentary with no real effect.

    We need one less columnist on council, and one more person with a real working understanding of what it takes to get things legally done.

    • San Jose has historically received more bang for it’s public safety buck than any other major city. How?  By grossly understaffing the police department and committing a much lower share of the general fund to public safety as compared to other big cities. You used to be able to get away with this because you had a highly educated, highly motivated and very professional police force.  Unfortunately, thanks to the Mayor’s scorched-earth campaign, your police talent has left in droves and you barely have 1000 cops for a city of a million people. Good luck getting the research you seek without the CMO twisting the s**t out of the numbers. My guess would be that the POA and Local 230 would be more than happy to provide it to you.

    • you got it right but PO or anyone else will not respond.  Boy it looks good for PO when he runs for mayor until he has loss of memory and blames previous councils for all the problems.

      thank you for stating the truth.  Again, if this information does not get outside this blog it goes for not!

  7. Do you realize HOW LONG we have been advocating this at 201 W. Mission Street? Sadly, City Hall leadership has decimated SJPD and millions of dollars in marketing and PR will not fix what has been done. Industry-wide SJPD is a joke punchline and the bottom of the barrel. Hundreds have retired and hundreds have fled to other agencies. Funny but when I took a pay cut to come here in 1999 it was the best. Smaller agencies could not compete. SJPD was the a premier agency, and not just in the Bay Area, but nationwide. Long ago were those days. SJPD is now roadkill to the Reed-Union-Busting-Express, some might even call it the Hate-Train, and with sufficient evidence. What is worst of all is that citizens have paid for his political aspirations with their very lives.

    Q1: Why are you proposing this now and what do you intend to do about it?

    Q2: When are you up for re-election? Dare I connect this idea with a potential re-election bid??

  8. Pier,
    What a load of crap that you are suddenly having this epiphany. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and the police department has lost tens of thousands of collective service years of experience and knowledge of officers to other departments and to forced retirements. Go ahead and change the charter, it will never undone what you, this mayor, city manager and some fellow council members have done to this police department in a few short years. Other future council members will be left to deal with the damage you have done, long after you are gone.

  9. why now after all the budget cuts and layoffs over the last few years are you now interested in doing something in a positive way?  OH you are up for re-election PO, great way to campaign except city employees are on to you..I hope the people of willow glen are ready for another 4 years of your BS(NOT).. chuck greed says council will take everything from employees before doing whats right.

  10. I came here in 1995. Left another Police Department and came to San Jose cause I believed it was better than where I was.  They say hind sight is 20/20 and wish I had a crystal ball back in 95, I would have stayed put where I was and never came to SJPD. The city and police department I came from are not stirring the pension pot. In fact one of our recently retired Police Captains retired from here and became their Chief. It saddens me to see how this department has changed.  We use to be known as an SJPD family when I first got hired.  The city and the department maintained good family like relationships with it’s officers.  Now it’s a dysfunctional family unit.

  11. For whatever it is worth, this article sounds like yet another political campaign piece during an election year for one council member. It all sounds good (kind of) but actions are louder then words.  Your actions thus far have resulted in few positive results.  What YOUR actions and the actions of this council have done is place the health and safety of my family and my property at risk.

    Oh so just change the charter…well Professor..why didn’t you think of that prior to destroying the current police force?  So which Peter are you going to rob to pay Paul?

    Fiscal mismanagement.  Who else is running for D6?

  12. PLO , You are so obvious! You ,  Mr. Burns , & the rest of the Clown Court (Nguyen,Liccardo, Hererra , Constant) Do everything you can to Destroy Public Safety ( Lowest Staffed Police & Fire Depts in the Nation) Blame Public safety for all of the cities financial woes ……..instead of the absolutely inept leadership that is Mayor Reed. Nobody believes in you or trust you. You reap what you sow

    • You can’t unring a bell.  Nonetheless if you are sincere sever your strings from the puppeteer and publicly denounce the illegal ballot measure.  Demonstrate to the voters you are no longer Geppetto’s Lackey.

  13. PO: You do not fool us. You have continued to vote down EVERYTHING for Public Safety! People please vote for Steve Kline! He will be the BEST person for our area! If in doubt, look at PO’s record! He is anti-Public Safety and Anti-you! And so far I have yet to see anything positive come from his postings! All replies are angry residents like me! Lets vote out the bad apples! Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!

  14. Agree that police and fire are core functions for a municipal government, but using percentile math to assign its funding doesn’t always work out right.

    I also think that the more stuff you try to cram into the city charter, the worse things actually work.

    Remember that state proposition to assign a certain percentage of the state budget to K-14?

  15. After all the political speeches that public safety was top priority  

    Council votes to cut public safety budget forcing police and fire layoffs while voting to give millions to Council friends and ex politicians

    NOW you propose to allocate a percentage of general fund budget – too little and too late

    This blog is just more political reelection BS to get votes not how you and Council have voted on public safety budget for years – cuts, cuts and more cuts while crime rat goes up, up and up

    Vote NO for all current Council members

    Council has failed San Jose, mismanaged city, cut vital city services while giving millions taxes away to their friends, campaign contributors, ex city managers and ex politicians –  VOTE NO

    NOW wants to raise d taxes and fees again to pay for city mismanagement and more tax giveaways – VOTE NO

  16. My Family has lived in the great willow glen area since we had orchards off Cherry and Curtner. We all still live in willow glen and thought it was the best place to live in the city. We all voted for you and thought you were the young smart guy who would keep this area safe and great area it is. But after seeing the way you and the mayor face the cities financial woes by vilifying our public safety is not the way I see our leaders solving problems. I see crime in this area going up and not seeing the same communnity I have known all my life. My family or my community do not plan on voting for you again unless you have real solutions. This article is a start but like the previous reader, actions speak way louder than political words. You have some work to do. To all Public Safety people we Thank You and truely mean it. Not like our city leaders

  17. Vote Oliverio and rest of Council out Fire Mis-Manager Figone

    Mayor and Council has talked for years about bring more jobs to San Jose but what do they do raise business taxes, fees and make doing business in San Jose more costly and difficult

    Reed and Figone use using lame excuses like ” Moderize the Business License tax ”  which means charge more than surrounding cities for business license and every other business tax and fess

    Many small businesses pay more more than San Francisco small business especially if your business is downtown , Willow Glen or on The Almanda where businesses were charged business improvement distrct fees now property owners pay business district improvement fees and pass costs on to businesses –

    Council and Mis-Manager Figone have not fooled us, we see more and more business taxes and fees for less and less

    Move your business to Campbell, Santa Clara. Morgan Hill and Milpitas like many other businesses have where you are appreciated and not ripped off by city government

    Angry – Damm right –  Council and Mis-Manager Figome have ripped us off while either getting rich or just acting stupid