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February 6, 2023
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Officers’ Association: Chief didn’t quit, he was fired

Town hopes to calm dissent in police ranks

Tuesday’s Town Council meeting started a few minutes late, after police escorted a woman out who claimed a medical exemption and refused to wear a mask. But it was relatively peaceful otherwise, especially compared to the last meeting.

That regularly scheduled affair on Sept. 7 was halted temporarily after outcry over police staffing challenges became unruly.

Personal attacks against elected officials and their family members continued during the public comment period this week, but some of the biggest accusations were being floated behind the scenes.

According to Los Gatos Police Officers’ Association President Bryan Paul, now-former Police Chief Peter Decena didn’t quit, but was fired.

“He was fired, and they allowed him to resign in-lieu,” he said. “The Town Manager is basically running the police department into the gutter.” 

The Los Gatan spoke with Town Manager Laurel Prevetti on Sept. 17, more than a week after the Sept. 7 Council chaos, as she and Mayor Marico Sayoc were getting ready to clear the air with Paul.

Citing confidentiality laws, Prevetti declined to comment on his claim that police dispatchers were offered no raise during Town Employee Association negotiations that broke down earlier this year, despite the municipality emerging from the darkest pandemic days in relatively decent financial health.

“We’ve had really good labor relations over the years,” she said. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to find an agreement between all of the parties.”

Council just approved a 7% raise for temporary dispatchers, since it has only three of eight full-time positions filled, bringing this pay scale in line with regular employees.

The POA is calling the lack of dispatchers a “public crisis” and is demanding a 9% raise, which it says is what it would take to make their compensation match other nearby jurisdictions—something required by the TEA’s 2018-2021 Memorandum of Understanding.

Prevetti says the Town’s working hard to staff up, and says it isn’t her office that’s responsible for hiring, but the heads of each department.

“We’re moving on several fronts simultaneously,” she said. “Our goal is to retain our wonderful staff.”

The Town Employees Union, which, besides dispatchers, represents librarians, planners, office assistants and others, has been without a contract since June 30.

According to Prevetti, the only thing on the table during this round of negotiations is pay, including bonuses, while additional aspects are to be opened up in the 2022 round.

The POA entered negotiations with the Town this summer, and their contract expires at the end of the month.

Paul says dispatchers have had to go to the restroom while wearing their headset because there’s no one to cover for them.

He was happy to meet with Prevetti, but says he was disappointed by what he interpreted as a lack of transparency.

“One of the first things that they said was they wanted open lines of communication so that we wouldn’t have to go to the Council meetings anymore,” he said. “To me, that’s amazing, because, don’t you want the public to hear openly about what’s going on, especially when there’s a public crisis?”

On Monday, a 14-year veteran of the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department, Sgt. David Nylander, handed in his two weeks’ notice, according to Paul.

“He’s not retiring,” Paul said. “He’s resigning his position.”

This follows on the heels of Officer Tyler Barnes completing his final day last week, before moving out of state.

Prevetti says Los Gatos’ police department is “probably the premier law enforcement entity in the entire United States” with officers rarely having to resort to serious force to fight crime. The department brought in body and car cameras more than a decade ago.

Sarah Tada, the communications and records manager for the dispatch center, has stepped up to the plate to help cover staffing gaps, Prevetti said, adding the Town has reached out to Sunnyvale, Campbell and Los Altos to see if they have employees who want to work part-time in Los Gatos as dispatchers.

“When we need help, we often call our colleagues in those other cities and say, ‘Do you want some extra hours?’” she explained, noting training does take time. “They need to learn our information technology systems.”

Prevetti says it’s not uncommon for police association officials to make comments in public while salary negotiations are underway.

Paul says he’d like to see the dispatchers get that 9% raise, of course, but claims that, for officers, it isn’t about the money.

“I think the first solution is to apologize,” he said. “I have yet to hear them take ownership of this.”

Vice Mayor Rob Rennie said he was disappointed Paul’s appearance at Council was curtailed after dissent bubbled over.

“I think there’s some people that are coming that just want to make a scene, and then there’s others that want to send a message, and we want to hear the message,” he said. “I’m actually hoping that the POA president will come back, and we can listen to what he has to say and be able to ask questions without all the disruption.”

Rennie told the Los Gatan he was curious about whether Paul believes the 7% raise for temporary dispatchers will make a difference:

“I wanted to ask him, ‘Well, is that going to help?,’ ‘What else should we be doing?’”

Paul did not speak at the Sept. 21 Council meeting.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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