SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Hoping to shore up its shrinking police force, the City Council on Tuesday officially named a widely respected veteran insider as the city's new chief and handed out raises worth nearly 11 percent to its police officers.
The council votes represent the final actions to two key moves designed to help bolster a San Jose Police Department that is down to about 910 active cops patrolling a city of almost 1 million people.
First, the council unanimously approved a contract with acting Chief Larry Esquivel to take on the job permanently. City Manager Deb Figone had recommended Esquivel for the job in late October but the San Jose native had not confirmed until now that he would take the post.
Esquivel, who started with the department as a reserve officer in 1985, rose up the ranks before being named acting chief in January when former top cop Chris Moore retired. Esquivel, who made $170,109 as deputy chief last year, will make a new salary of $203,000, about equal to his predecessor's pay.
After being sworn in at Tuesday's council meeting, Esquivel said he hoped to "invest" in officers to attract cops and make them happy to work for the department, where morale has been low. He vowed to make the city safer as homicide rates continue to climb in what was once called America's safest big city.
"Despite the serious challenges caused by limited resources and reduced staffing levels, we have great people doing outstanding work every day for San Jose," Esquivel said in a statement. "I will continue to work in collaboration with our entire team and community to make this department and our community better."
Second, council members voted unanimously to ratify a new union contract with the San Jose Police Officers' Association that calls for officers to receive raises totaling 10.66 percent through the end of 2015. The contract, which 79 percent of union members approved last week, also includes a one-time bonus of 2 percent of officers' pay.
"This is more than symbolic," Councilwoman Rose Herrera said. "This is real money."
The city expects to use reserve funds to pay for the extra $24.3 million in costs through 2015.
The cops and all other city employees took a 10 percent pay cut during the Great Recession to help avert further layoffs. Last year, the average officer made $111,185 in gross pay, including overtime, which was about middle of the pack in the Bay Area. But the city's cost for benefits such as health care and pensions are among the highest in the region.
With police officers' cost for pensions potentially rising under voter-approved changes championed by Mayor Chuck Reed, and their pay staying flat in recent years, about two or three cops per week have left in recent months.
The contract ends a yearlong, acrimonious labor negotiation. But the police officers union says the city still needs to do more to stop more cops from exiting, including addressing concerns about stricter voter-approved disability retirement rules that have led some recruits to seek private insurance. City officials have said the union has misled officers about the disability changes, which have yet to be implemented.
Council members said they will work on figuring out how to afford restoring the full 10 percent pay cut taken by other city employees, who have already been given 2 percent raises.
Copyright 2013 - San Jose Mercury News
McClatchy-Tribune News Service