‘Welcome back, Officer Peralez’: San José Councilman rejoins police force

Mercury News  September 20, 2017

SAN JOSE — They are just three words. But Councilman Raul Peralez hasn’t heard them in nearly a decade.

“Congratulations, Officer Peralez.”

Those words, uttered by San José Police Chief Eddie Garcia on Monday, stirred deep emotions and marked the start of a new journey for the downtown councilman and ex-cop. Peralez on Monday rejoined the police force as a reserve, three years after resigning to serve as a councilman.

“I missed being an officer,” Peralez said Monday, after taking his oath and getting a new badge. “I missed that role, the camaraderie, the connection that you have as an officer with the community. I felt as though that was missing.”

Though Peralez isn’t the first ex-officer to join the San José council — former officer Pete Constant served from 2006 to 2014 after leaving the force due to injuries — he is the first in the city to serve as an elected official and sworn officer at the same time.

The California Peace Officers’ Association doesn’t know of any agency that tracks how many elected officials work as cops, but it’s believed to be rare. Locally, former Milpitas Mayor Robert Livengood was a reserve officer for a dozen years while serving on the City Council.

Reserve police officers are sworn in, carry a firearm and have the same authority as full-time cops. The main difference: They don’t get paid and must work at least 16 hours a month. Ten of those hours must be on patrol, riding passenger with a full-time officer, said police Sgt. Dave Wilson.

Peralez, 35, served as an officer for eight years but had to quit after winning the election in 2014. The city prohibits working as paid police officer and a council member — essentially getting two paychecks — and Peralez understood that would be the price of going into politics.

“I knew exactly what I was doing, I would have never left the force for this role if I didn’t think it was where I could make a bigger difference,” Peralez said.

Even so, Peralez felt the tug of police duty after leaving the force. It hit hardest at the April 2015 funeral for fallen Officer Michael Johnson. As a dignitary, Peralez sat on the sidelines and watched from a distance as his former colleagues paid their respects.

“I felt this connection to be closer than where I am,” Peralez said.

And when the opportunity arose, the ex-cop never hesitated to jump back into action. Last year, Peralez chased and restrained an alleged kidnapper and carjacker after witnessing a crash from a nearby coffee shop.

So Peralez took the first steps — talking to his new wife about the idea to join the police department as a reserve officer — and ensuring it wouldn’t clash with his job as a councilman.

Peralez consulted with City Attorney Rick Doyle before he applied for the job to ensure it wouldn’t be a conflict. Doyle said Peralez might need to recuse himself on a some City Council votes, particularly those involving labor talks and police budgets.

Peralez isn’t getting paid or receiving benefits as a reserve, so he won’t need to exclude himself from wage negotiations with the police union. However, he might need to step outside if discussions include expanding the job duties of reserve officers. The councilman also won’t be allowed to sign up for paid side jobs, as other reserve officers do.

“I’ve talked to him about it and it’s going to be case by case,” Doyle said. “But he’s pretty cautious and well aware of that.”

Peralez, who’ll be one of 86 reserve officers in San José, said the biggest challenge is finding time in his packed schedule for work shifts. His wife of three months, Victoria Ramirez, said the couple is determined to make it work — without sacrificing date nights.

“He’s very considerate about making sure our calendars work together,” Ramirez said. “Obviously, it’s a sacrifice for everyone — but it’s a sacrifice he cares about. He’s good at his job, and I know it’s what made him happy. I’m very proud of him.”

Peralez dismissed the notion that a council member in uniform would be at any added risk.

“I dont think I have any more to be concerned than any officer wearing a uniform does,” Peralez said. “People may not like you. You may have somebody that’s threatening your life just because you’re wearing a uniform. I don’t think that threat grows any more because I’m an elected official.”

Peralez will be allowed to carry a concealed weapon at council meetings — something the councilman has legally done in the past three years under the possession of his concealed weapons permit.

And he said reserve duty allows him the best of both worlds.

“Now,” he said, “I have the opportunity to make a difference daily in my role as Councilmember and I will also be able to volunteer and give back as an officer from time to time as well.”

Garcia, the police chief, said it’s an “interesting dynamic” to have a councilman work for him a couple days a month. But the chief said he’s confident that Peralez will wear the badge proudly and excel in his new role.

“This is not just a job, it’s a calling, and it’s very difficult to get it out of your system,” Garcia said. “I think he’s going to do great and he won’t skip a beat.”