San José once was billed as the Safest Big City in America. It’s my hope we can be again. Ensuring public safety is among my top priorities. Objectively, San José is still a safe city, and the numbers back up this assertion. Major violent crimes in San José fell by 9% and homicides fell by 16% during the 2013-2014 fiscal year compared to the previous year. But there is no denying that the perception of San José as a city increasingly plagued by crime is prevalent. The National Citizen Survey™ found that although 83% of San José residents feel either “very” or “somewhat” safe in their neighborhoods during the day, 95% of them believe it is “essential” or “very important” to address the overall feeling of safety in San José.
The City Council must actively work to ensure a continued trend of falling crime rates and an increased feeling of safety in San José. Doing so will require a varied approach that aims to restoring the ranks of our police force, incorporating citizen participation, and creating a police force for the 21st century that leverages technology to help the City of San José allocate its resources in the most efficient way possible. I am ready to lead that approach.
Restoring our Police Force
It has been widely reported that as of mid-2015, San José has fewer than 1,000 police officers on its force, a figure not seen since 1985. This decline in our police ranks is due in part to pension reform efforts in recent years, which made working for the San José Police Department less desirable when compared to the police departments of neighboring cities that have left their pension programs intact. To remain competitive with other police departments and to expand our force, San José must increase officer pay to a level that allows officers to live comfortably within our community, while at the same time allowing each officer to independently prepare for retirement. Additionally, the City should identify and implement policies that can improve the quality of life of officers and all City employees, which would go far in reducing turnover.
Faced with a shortage of police officers in recent years, San José has turned to its citizens to step in and help our community deal with less urgent matters. The City established a Community Service Officer program, hiring civilians to help investigate burglaries, theft, vandalism, non-injury traffic collisions, and other incidents where a fully trained police officer is not required. This program should continue to be expanded to free up more officers to tend to active crimes, and also to give the City the resources to assist victims of crimes in person, which will help combat the perception that the City is ill equipped to address crime.
San José’s police department can also do more to stay engaged with community members – especially the leaders of organized neighborhood associations – via sites like NextDoor.com, where active community members already discuss what’s going on in their neighborhoods. These sorts of interaction can help disseminate messages from the police department quickly, while also assist officers in keeping track of events and happenings that are of concern to citizens.
By building deeper connections with the communities they patrol, police officers will be in a better position to identify and respond to suspicious activity.
Building a 21st Century Police Force
The fact that San José must make active efforts to recruit new police officers is not an enviable position to be in. However, it does put the City in a unique position to recruit and train a cutting edge police force that is ready to tackle the problems of the 21st century. This includes building a police force that is familiar with the newest technology and equipment, non-lethal combat techniques, as well as one that is culturally sensitive to our City’s many diverse residents.
Officers should be encouraged – and paid – to learn another language in addition to English so that they can more easily serve and protect the City’s limited-English-proficient population.
Finally, in addition to increasing officer pay, the City should invest in the tools and resources necessary to allow police officers to do their work as efficiently as possible while minimizing the danger they put themselves in. This means not only acquiring the latest protective gear, but also investing in new technologies like predictive crime software that predicts where crime is most likely to happen next.