Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Little Less Protecting and Serving: San Jose Police Announce Service Cuts

When we last left the city of San Jose, it was, well, really, really broke, a shocking outcome in a city known for subsidizing the competitors to taxpayer-funded businesses and paying tech startups to leave town. Its most recent budget fix included heavy cuts to police services, including June layoffs of dozens of officers. As of yesterday, San Jose residents are learning more about what services they shouldn't expect the cops to keep performing.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the SJPD is still telling residents to call in regarding criminal behaviors; it's just going to take its time responding to some types of calls. According to Deputy Chief David Cavallaro, "We just have to really prioritize what we can and can't do. We're trying to find a balance between the community's needs and the officers we have left." Among the complaints that might not get a quick response: unlicensed fruit vendors on public streets, recycling theft, illegal parking, noise complaints, and alarms. While we have no problem with the police backing away on the first three offenses, we could see how the failure to respond to noise complaints could turn out very badly; not every such complaint is a bunch of kids having a party. Moreover, refusing to respond to alarms without eyewitnesses to a break-in would seem to invite even more property crime in the city. Worse, the PD is also mulling a policy of not showing up to car accidents unless someone's been injured. Determining whether someone's been hurt in an accident is often not as easy as it sounds.

We're less bothered by these specific service cuts, which are reminiscent of cuts implemented by Oakland's police last year, than by the precedent they set. If police are going to play the hero card every time their contracts come up for negotiation, they should be expected to provide whatever level of heroism the public demands. And cuts like these do set a precedent for selectively "standing down" if responding to a crime doesn't pass the department's own cost-benefit test. We've already seen the consequences of this in downtown San Jose this year, and on a beach in Alameda on Memorial Day. And, as this San Francisco Chronicle article suggests, selective enforcement hasn't made Oakland a safer place thus far. If we're going to be forced to pay the salaries and pensions for these folks, we should have at least some say in where that money goes.


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