Stockton’s city manager and main police union representative are butting heads over a whopping 34% raise police claim is necessary to match other cities Stockton lagged after its bankruptcy.

This is the most consequential fiscal decision of the fiscal year (fy) 2022-23 budget. On the one hand, the police department is bleeding dissatisfied cops. On the other, the city’s long-range solvency remains a serious concern.

‘We’re not the federal government,” said City Manager Harry Black, who disputes the 34% figure, claiming the pay gap is more like 20%. “We can’t keep printing money.”

Counters the police union president, Det. Patrick High, “There is no way that Stockton will be able to retain and recruit any candidate if every city around it makes visibly more money.”

The SPD is budgeted for 485 sworn officers. It has plunged below 400. Officers are leaving for higher-paying jobs.

Stockton’s in a squeeze. The law requires cities to balance budgets. Deficit spending is forbidden. Yet the city must also pay off millions in Chapter 9 debt for years to come.

Plus, the dubiously managed state pension system, CalPERS, just reported losing money on its investments. When CalPERS loses money, it hikes cities’ pension bills.

And a recession may be in the offing. The double whammy of overspending and a revenue-sapping recession is what crashed the crazy train last time.

“We’re not the federal government. We can’t keep printing money.”

Stockton City Manager Harry Black

To avoid “Chapter 18,” a repeat municipal bankruptcy, the city has a sophisticated Long-Range Fiscal Plan, or L-RFP, stretching to 2040. The city’s fiscal team feeds proposed expenditures into this program to see if they are sustainable.

Black says the city’s last offer is “a stretch,” but doable, and necessary: a 16% raise over a 3-year contract, a 2% per year health contribution, and a $5,000 one-time payment, a $39.5 million deal. Officials say they likely can close the gap completely come next contract.

But a 34% raise now could break the bank, Black said.

“We are in the yellow zone as I call it,” he said. “Doing anything more significant would put us in, I believe, a danger zone.”

City and union each determined the going rate through a process called a salary survey. A salary survey looks at what other cities pay — a half-dozen to a dozen comparable cities, usually.

The key word is “comparable.” Unless correctly done, comparing cities of similar size and economies, salary surveys spit out bogus, apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Stockton once set compensation by a ludicrous metric that included Fremont, Pasadena, and Huntington Beach. City employees sailed that Huntington Beach yacht to the Isle of Stony Broke.

The city refused to share its salary survey, citing negotiation confidentiality. The police union looked at Lathrop, Tracy, Lodi, Manteca, and Elk Grove. Stockton cops leave for these cities, High said.

“There is no way that Stockton will be able to retain and recruit any candidate if every city around it makes visibly more money.”

Patrick High, president of the Stockton Police Officers’ Association

This survey is flawed. The median household income in Elk Grove, for instance, is $101,776 (US Census) compared to Stockton’s, $58,393. Elk Grove pays more because it can afford to.

But the exodus of cops is a fact. “How do you recruit somebody,” High persuasively asks, “when they can go literally five minutes down the road to another agency?”

Other media settle for reporting on pay disparity, which allows the union to frame the story, as if there’s nothing else to consider. We mentioned relative economies; how about how well cops do their job?

Stockton’s police department is coming off a decade of reform and innovation that has introduced policies such as reconciliation, implicit bias training, and procedural justice. All good.

Still, if crime is up, understaffing may not be the only reason. A job performance review seems in order, like everybody else gets when they ask for a raise.

This column can’t review the entire department (hopefully the City Manager does). But let’s look at one division, homicide.

Below, police staff levels are correlated with the homicide “clearance rate”—the percentage of murder cases solved–over the past six years:

  • 2016: 417 cops, clearance rate 30.6 %
  • 2017: 445, 39.3%
  • 2018: 467, 63.6%
  • 2019: 461, 47.1%
  • 2020: 462, 66.1%
  • 2021: 424, 52.5%

Average percentage of murder cases solved: 49.8%

These numbers aren’t perfect. Cold cases solved years later aren’t added to the average, for instance.

Additionally, “We’re down seven homicide detectives,” High said.

That said, the numbers show that even in years when the Stockton Police Department enjoyed nearly its full complement of 485 officers, the solve rate was not that impressive.

Fresno police’s 2021 solve rate was 73%. Its solve rate for 2022 so far is 86%.

One number from one crime category is far from the whole story. But it is part of the story.

One last factoid. According to the accompanying pie chart, police take by far the largest slice of Stockton’s General Fund, 53%. Add Fire, and public safety takes 72%.

If the police union accepts the city offer, that percentage swells to 75%.

This is not to begrudge public safety personnel fair compensation. But that percentage is well above the standard for cities over 200,000. The usual range is 60% to 64%, Black said.

Dollars that go to public safety do not go to roads, parks, city trees, recreation programs, libraries, etc. So the police contract is not just about fair compensation vs. municipal solvency. It’s about the quality of life and services Stockton taxpayers get.

Or don’t get. The city’s population grew 9% over the past 10 years, but service levels are frozen somewhere around fy 2008-09. Leaders had hoped to add staff and fix more potholes this year. Raises for police will absorb much of that money.

Now, you ask, why is Stockton’s public safety cost so high? Good question, citizen. Three reasons I can see.

  • First, crime is higher in Stockton.
  • Second, the city collects fewer tax dollars from residents, so the General Fund is smaller, hence the proportion of market-rate public safety costs is higher. That’s nobody’s fault.
  • Third, previous city leaders gave cops and firefighters overly sweet contracts. That’s definitely somebody’s fault.

Negotiations resume Thursday. Both sides say a deal is close.

Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: mfitzgeraldstockton@gmail.com.

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7 Comments

  1. Until Stockton attracts Investors and businesses that can generate the tax base needed to reach contractual agreements with SPD and SFD — this issue will never go away. We need city leaders who will get out and promote the city — not run around taking selfies in front of established businesses and services their office had nothing to do with.

  2. The city manager gave himself a raise why not give are cops what they need the city manager don’t care because he don’t live here he only here from 9-5 Monday tru Friday

    1. But this article states SPD WILL get a raise, just not as high as SPD union wants. I am a member of a public sector union. And it sounds as if there are two issues that SPD union ignores – contracts in previous negotiations were so generous it helped the City into bankruptcy and, City expects to , in the succeeding contact, be able to able to afford the full ask.
      My greater concern, though, is why their homicide clearance rate is so low.
      If Fresno PD can achieve 75% – 80%, SPD should be able to as well.

  3. Following 9-11 all police departments and fire departments cried that they were heroes and deserved higher pay, and they got it. Then other departments chimed in, and they received pay raises as well. From personal experience (I’m a former city employee) they are all over-paid and lack motivation to serve the public. I had never experienced a group of people with such poor work ethic as I did at the City of Stockton. Cut their salaries, especially the ridiculous salary recently granted to the city manager!

  4. So, approximately 3 out of 10 Police Officers are leaving Stockton, for better pay and benefits.. Which they most certainly deserve, Mr. Black wants to split hairs over the small percentage difference!!
    Maybe we need to go bankrupt. Bring in State and Feds to run our affairs and pay the bills.
    We sure haven’t elected anyone who’s done Stockton any great dealings..
    (I do have hopes for our sitting Mayor) the rest of the swamp needs to drain..

  5. It is good to see Mr. Fitzgerald write on this very important subject.
    Retention is the key to achieving the numbers of officers we need and we promised in Measure W and Measure A. The article notes the number of officers have dropped below 400, please consider the numbers below.:
    June 2018 470
    June 2019 469
    June 2020 432
    June 2021 433
    December 2021 424
    March 2022 409
    August 2022 391
    Under Measure A, we were promised 120 added officers. With 391, the City has taken all of our Measure A money and delivered only 22% of the new officers promised.
    For the years ending June 2014 to June 2021, we paid $235 million in Measure A tax, of which 42% has not been accounted for. If you doubt my computations, insist on an audit of the Measure A financial statements, an audit the City refuses over and over again to have conducted.
    We have bankruptcy risk from failure to have accurate, timely financial reporting and audits, and by diverting Measure A fund to ignoble ends such as a profligate new City Hall.

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