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California police union helps Austin recruit city officers
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Feb. 18, 2013

SAN JOSE, CA - It isn't just Texas Gov. Rick Perry who's looking to lure Californians to the Lone Star State.

The San Jose Police Officers' Association hosted the Austin Police Department last Tuesday to promote Austin's effort to recruit the city's cops. Austin was seeking city officers chafing at pay and benefit cuts brought on by the soaring cost of their city retirement pensions. It's not the first time the SJPOA has hosted outside recruiters in recent months.

But critics feel the officers' union is being hypocritical by inviting recruiters to poach city cops. The SJPOA has argued that the department is dangerously short-handed and blamed Mayor Chuck Reed's pension reforms for driving officers out and allowing crime to spike. A recent newsletter likened the department to the sinking Titanic.

"Truly counterproductive behavior" was how Councilman Pete Constant, a Reed ally and former San Jose cop, put it, arguing that the union is "encouraging people to leave" the force and further jeopardizing the safety of remaining officers and the public. "Their energies would be much better used in looking for ways we can increase the size of our department rather than decreasing it."

SJPOA consultant Tom Saggau said that while continued police departures are "a concern," officers are free to pursue other job options.

"People are filling out applications all over the state and the region," Saggau said. "It's going to get worse before it gets better."

It's worth noting the context: While the San Jose police union has stymied Reed's voter-approved pension reforms with lawsuits, it's in contract renewal talks with the city and seeking raises totaling 16 percent over three years. Reed and his City Council allies have said the city can't afford that without cutting libraries and other programs but have suggested smaller, one-time retention bonuses to keep officers on the beat.

Austin's police recruiter, Lt. Jerry Gonzalez, said the recruitment trip was a success. About two dozen San Jose cops showed up and more than half are potential candidates to join his department.

San Jose has been scrambling to recruit more officers, and hundreds have applied. Deputy City Manager Alex Gurza said San Jose's retirement plans appear similar to Austin's and that salaries are much higher. The base salary is $97,198 for a veteran officer in San Jose, compared with $82,553 in Austin.

"We are still an attractive place to work," Gurza said, "and we still have police officers who want to work here."


 

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