SAN JOSE -- The police swag and brochures lined up on the table, they hunkered down for another slog, this time at a San Jose State University job fair.

As a stream of people gravitated to other agencies' booths, recruiters for the San Jose Police Department talked to about two dozen students in three hours. Three filled out a job application.

Sgt. Brian Misener and Officers Lorente LaCap and Norene Marinelli may be the hardest-working officers in police business. In an acrid political climate that has driven away hundreds of veteran cops and prompted rookies to flee before they've even finished their field training, they must encourage and inform prospective candidates to join the ranks of the San Jose Police Department.

As a handicap, those applicants are keenly aware of highly publicized department discord over pay, pensions and disability coverage.

"We can only control so much and do so much in recruiting," said Misener, a 20-year SJPD veteran. "Like all San Jose cops, I still have tremendous pride in the department. If they do show interest, we'll help them through the process. If they don't, we'll understand that too."

On Tuesday, the SJPD booth was flanked by recruiters from San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, which were all noticeably busier.

Misener and patrol Sgt. Carlos Acosta, a volunteer for the afternoon, laid out SJPD-emblazoned eco-friendly grocery bags and lip balm as their booth swag and got down to pressing flesh.


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Over the course of the three-hour fair, Misener said they talked to about 25 people who stopped by and asked questions, and got three applications. At a Las Vegas event this past weekend, 17 applications were submitted.

Misener, LaCap and Marinelli are the full-time recruiting team for the department, but with Marinelli on disability leave and scheduling limitations, the sergeant has come to rely on a stable of volunteers, such as Acosta.

San Jose police recruiters have grown accustomed to seeing other police recruiters drumming up more interest as they work job fairs, athletic competitions and community events far and wide, covering California, Nevada, and Hawaii.

Misener and his squad can't outrun the news. Any prospective applicant needs about 30 seconds on an Internet search engine to read the latest about the turmoil in San Jose compared to better-paying and less-mired agencies.

"They're paying attention," Misener said. "One negative comment stays up for months and as soon as it fades, there's one ready to take its place."

Misener and his officers don't duck away from the reality, which a decade ago was characterized by aspiring officers flooding the San Jose recruitment booth.

"We can only go and tell people what we like about San Jose PD and be honest about the challenges we're facing," he said.

Capt. David Honda, Misener's supervisor, said the primary selling point of working at San Jose police was always about the variety of police work afforded to officers in a large city that aren't available elsewhere.

"But it's hard to be competitive when the next booth is saying we can pay more," Honda said.

As the fair was happening, the City Council was meeting about a block away and deliberating on easing disability limits for public-safety workers, which has been a major sticking point for prospective officers deciding on where to pursue a historically injurious career path.

It dovetailed with the revelation last week that the police academy starting in May consists of 29 cadets, the smallest class in decades and far short of the class cap of 60.

The news added fuel to ongoing political jousting where the police union is accused of dissuading applicants to leverage the mayor and his city council allies, who they in turn blame for budget-balancing austerity and pension-reform measures that through layoffs, early retirements and resignations have led to a loss of nearly 400 officers since 2008, reducing the department's ranks by about a third.

What also followed were murmurs questioning how effectively the department was recruiting. Both Honda and Misener said the 29-cadet figure can also be seen as a sign that even in tough times, the department is not lowering its standards.

Or its efforts.

"If they didn't think I was doing my job, I'd have a boot in my backside," Misener said. "I took this job on during the most difficult time in the department's history, but we have extremely motivated and dedicated officers. I enjoy the challenges and difficulties of it."

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.