In his first year as San Jose’s top cop, chief lays down Moore’s Law
Posted by the San Jose Mercury News Feb. 10, 2012.
By Bruce Newman
As San Jose’s top cop, Chris Moore may watch over the city’s thin blue line, but the 6-foot-5, 272-pound department veteran is no longer part of it. The burden of command became increasingly evident during Moore’s tumultuous first year as chief, during which he administered a department dealing with pay cuts, layoffs, a rising murder rate and spiraling morale.
It was a year of living dangerously, and when it ended this month, the chief acknowledged during an interview that the job “has not been fun.” But he sharply disputed the notion that he’s “a puppet” of City Hall — as anonymous critics have charged on blogs frequented by the department’s rank-and-file.
Moore also acknowledged he’d like to see fewer officer-involved shootings, denied a direct link between police layoffs and a doubling of the murder rate in 2011, and proposed a novel solution for the department’s reduced manpower: Ask the public to help.
Moore was appointed to the job Feb. 1, 2011, by City Manager Debra Figone, who made it clear she wanted an insider to steer the San Jose Police Department through the first large layoff in its history. But as the city heads toward a day of reckoning brought on by its budget deficit — threatening to eliminate perks such as cash payments for sick time at retirement, which cost the city about $10 million a year, and in Moore’s case would amount to nearly $200,000 — the new chief hinted he may quit to avoid forfeiting that windfall.
“That is a lot of money,” Moore said. “It’s something you have to wrestle with.”
As the seventh of 10 kids in his family, Moore got used to hand-me-downs. So when he went from serving as former Chief Rob Davis’ No. 2 to acting chief when Davis retired in 2010, and finally got the top job over a sexier outside candidate — then-Oakland Chief Anthony Batts — he didn’t take personally that groups like the Coalition for Justice and Accountability dismissed him as a holdover from the Davis years.
“It didn’t faze me at all,” Moore said. “Given what we were facing as an organization … I was actually surprised that I was selected.”
“He was part of that command structure,” said Richard Konda, a coalition leader, “and we were concerned he was just going to be more of the same.”
And LaDoris Cordell, the independent police auditor who had frequently clashed with Davis, said, “Particularly communities of color were holding their breath to find out what’s going to happen here.”
Almost immediately, Moore began advising officers on the chopping block to seek jobs elsewhere. Even before he sent out 122 initial layoff notices, the number of sworn officers on the force was plummeting from 1,409 in 2007 to 1,087 today. And there was more: 10 percent pay cuts, sergeants demoted to patrol.
“None of it was good news,” Moore said. “Everyone was looking to the mayor, the city manager and me to say, ‘It’s going to be all better.’ And the unfortunate truth is, it’s not.”
As retirements reduced payroll, the department offered to reinstate most of the 66 layoffs it ultimately made, but Moore says only about half of those offered their former jobs chose to return. For those who stayed, morale has suffered.
“What Chief Moore described to me is heartbreaking,” said Joseph McNamara, the city’s police chief for 15 years until 1991. “Because of all these cutbacks, officers feel the public has abandoned them.”
Some of their anger has been turned toward Moore. “There are a lot of reasons for people to be unhappy in the city, and certainly there are many unhappy people working in the Police Department,” Mayor Chuck Reed said. “The chief is trying to do the best job he can with the resources we give him. If the troops want to be angry about the budget, they should be angry at me.”
Figone said Moore, whose salary is $226,129 a year, is calling the shots in his department. “It’s really ridiculous to even imply that he’s my puppet,” she said. “I want him to lead the department. I don’t want to do it, and I haven’t had to.”
Victims and villains?
With further budget cutbacks inevitable, Moore acknowledged that certain “low-level” crimes are less likely to get attention. “We’re beyond doing more with less,” he said. “We’re now into doing less with less.”
He is trying to shift the public’s expectations, talking up a new collaboration between the department and the people it’s sworn to protect. “If you’re willing to meet us halfway, that’s a guarantee we’re going to do our best with minimal resources to help you help the neighborhood,” Moore said. “That’s what I want to hear. As opposed to somebody who just comes in and complains. That’s not helpful.”
Cordell cautiously traces a line between the cops’ budget bunker mentality and a troubling rise in police gunbattles with the public. “Officers are feeling victimized and villainized by politicians and members of the public,” she said, “and the number of officer-involved shootings is up. So it’s a very challenging time in which to lead a department.”
The homicide rate rose to 41 from 20 the previous year under Moore, an increase that police union officials suggested was a result of layoffs. “It’s not directly attributable to (cuts),” Moore said. “That’s a small piece of it.”
He was slightly less sanguine about eight officer-involved shootings. But Moore doesn’t feel the police have suddenly become trigger-happy. “It’s pretty clear that people were pulling weapons on police officers,” he said. While asserting the cops’ right to defend themselves, Moore acknowledged that some retraining might be required.
Moore grew alarmed at a level of gang violence he believed was fueling the higher murder rate, and invited two investigators from Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement to work with police. There was widespread concern about deportation proceedings arising from their collaborative work.
ICE had a reputation for heavy-handed tactics, and Moore had pledged to be police chief to all the people, so some perceived it as a misstep. “That was very disconcerting to the Latino community,” Cordell said.
“I was disappointed in some of the community response,” Moore said. But from June 14 until the start of school, the city had no gang-related homicides.
“He’s walking that really thin line between being part of management,” McNamara said, “and trying to protect a department that really has been badly hurt.”
In Silicon Valley, “Moore’s Law” usually refers to the doubling of computing speed every two years, but it soon could define an even more blinding rate of change in law enforcement. The chief said he had “already made sacrifices” to stay with the department, leaving vague how much longer he’d be willing to do so.
“We’ve been through a very difficult year,” Moore said. “It has not been fun. I’d like to see some better times.”
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at Twitter.com/brucenewmantwit.
Birthplace: San Francisco
Education: Bachelor’s degree, UC Berkeley; master’s degree in public administration, San Jose State
Employment: UC Berkeley campus police for three years; joined the San Jose Police Department in 1985
Favorite sport: Basketball
Favorite music: Smooth jazz, classic rock
Favorite author: Thomas Friedman
Favorite restaurant: Mezcal
Motto: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” — Louis Pasteur