San Jose officially has a new police chief, for the first time in nearly a year.
City Council members ratified the appointment of Larry Esquivel last night. Esquivel is a 28-year veteran of the police department who impressed city officials while serving as “acting” chief this year, after his predecessor Chris Moore retired in January.
KQED’s Mina Kim spoke with Esquivel about the challenges he faces and his priorities in his new role.
Mina Kim: You’ve inherited a department struggling with morale issues and a climbing homicide rate. First, how are you addressing the city’s crime spikes?
Larry Esquivel: Since I took over in January, our priorities have been to provide great customer service and addressing gang violence. We have to deal with, as part of the equation, our staffing levels. The last couple of years, for example this year to date, we’ve lost a little over a 100 officers, and I think about the same the last calendar year. We’re always fighting that battle of growth and stability with staffing, yet at the same time providing core services and trying to address crime levels that recently and the last few years have been extremely high.
Kim: The department has shrunk in recent years and has lost a couple hundred officers due to layoffs and pay cuts, and officers are still leaving. How are you tackling that?
Esquivel: Since January when I took over, twice this year, I’ve had to have temporary deployment plans — one in the summer to deal with not only gang violence but to help supplement our patrol force by having our traffic enforcement unit work patrol for a period of time. We assessed it and they went back to their regular duties. In January, there may be another alternative or option that we’re going to have to do and actually utilize at some point if we’re just not stable. Hopefully, as a step in the right direction, yesterday’s approval of our labor negotiations with our POA and the city, that’s going to help us [the restoration of the pay cut].
Kim: How is morale in the department, has it improved?
Esquivel: I think it has improved. There are still a lot of people who have left. It’s been difficult on our men and women the last few years, in terms of just the pay cuts and trying to survive financially. A lot of them have to work the extra overtime cars and extra jobs to survive financially — because they do like this department. We’re doing what we can to provide incentives and to listen to our men and women, and really give them information so they’re informed. I think thats’ important.
Kim: You’re a San Jose native who joined the department in 1984 as a reserve officer. What does it mean for you to be officially at the helm?
Esquivel: I take great pride in sitting in this chair and leading our men and women and still being here. I’m here by choice. I want to be here to further this department. It means a lot. There are lot of great leaders who have sat in this chair and led this department, so it’s a little humbling at times. And it’s a huge commitment. It’s something I do not take lightly or take for granted because it means a lot to the men and women that I work with and for the community, so I’m going to do the best job I can while I’m here.
Kim: What are some of the specific goals you are setting for yourself?
Esquivel: In general, to reduce crime and improve the quality of life for our citizens, so they feel safe and they go outside and play, go to the park … and not have to look over their shoulder about something happening or some kind of crime happening. I want them to feel good about where they live.
And also, investing in our work force. That’s big for me. I want to be able to provide incentives to our men and women to not only attract them, but to have them stay here and feel good about staying here and where they work. Those are two priorities for me.
Listen to Mina Kim’s interview with Larry Esquivel, San Jose’s new chief of police: