San Jose citizen committee proposes police reforms

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Almost two years after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd and set off protests across the country, San Jose officials received hundreds of recommendations on how to reform the city’s police department.

The City Council received a report Tuesday from the Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee. The committee, composed of representatives from numerous South Bay community organizations, created recommendations to address alternatives to police responses, support for families impacted by the justice system and improve civilian oversight of the San Jose Police Department.

An overarching theme of the recommendations is narrowing the scope of police activity to crimes and leaving other issues to civilian professionals. According to a survey of more than 1,500 San Jose residents in the report, 72% to 82% of people surveyed support a non-police approach to issues such as mental health, traffic safety, school safety and assisting the homeless.

“It only makes sense to have the right person to do the right job,” Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service and a member of the committee, said during the presentation to councilmembers. “We are excited to be able to partner with the city through this process to try to identify those correct interventions so we’re actually utilizing law enforcement for what we really need them for.”

City officials began more seriously exploring police reform following complaints and a lawsuit over SJPD’s handling of protests in 2020. Activists also raised concerns about a report published last year by the city’s Independent Police Auditor that found a quarter of sworn San Jose police officers had at least one complaint filed against them in 2020, and 23% of complaints involved allegations about use of force.

The auditor recently recommended SJPD overhaul its crowd control tactics, citing how officers failed to follow department procedures due to lack of training.

A staff analysis of the report’s recommendations will be heard by the Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee this fall.

A long road to reforms

San Jose officials formed the Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee in September 2020 following the protests.

The committee hit a snag in April 2021 when seven prominent members quit, claiming it lacked structure and had no focus on police reform. Organizers re-created the committee two months later after city officials promised it could create recommendations for police reform. The new committee is composed of representatives from 31 organizations, including Silicon Valley De-Bug, Asian Law Alliance, SOMOS Mayfair and the Vietnamese American Roundtable.

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Among its many recommendations, the committee asked San Jose officials to set up a trauma relief fund for survivors of police violence, create a ballot initiative to form an independent office to investigate police misconduct and drug test officers involved in use of force cases.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said the recommendations and comments about police interactions resonated with him due to his experiences growing up in East San Jose.

“Unfortunately, some of those same concerns and same interactions continue to take place—I’m certainly not blind to that,” Jimenez said.

Councilmember Raul Peralez acknowledged the city’s first attempt to set up a committee flopped. He said he’s grateful the second effort produced results.

“It’s a little bit delayed, but it’s really coming together at a time when we have a tremendous amount of opportunities to look at how we can reimagine public safety here in San Jose,” said Peralez, who is running for mayor.

Councilmember Matt Mahan, who is also running for mayor, said he’s often approached by residents who want to increase the police presence in their communities. Officials have recently raised concerns about lack of sufficient police staffing in San Jose, which has one of the smallest police departments of any large city in the country. He said the city should be able to accomplish some of the recommendations without sacrificing public safety, but it will require compromise.

“How do we bring those perspectives together in a productive dialogue to get to that place of balance?” Mahan said.

Numerous residents and social justice advocates encouraged councilmembers to implement the recommendations in the report, noting it is based on the lived experiences of people who have interacted with police.

“They’re great ideas and great recommendations,” said Rev. Ray Montgomery, executive director of People Acting in Community Together. “We know there is no easy way to make change, but there’s a principle we abide by, which says those closest to the pain are closest to the solution.”

Some advocates involved in the discussions about reimagining police noted councilmembers who made bold pronouncements about change after Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests haven’t take any actions.

“We haven’t done anything since 2020 around police reform and change and community safety, except for starting this committee,” said Jahmal Williams, a member of the committee and co-chair of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley. “You all asked for us to form this committee, we formed it, we put in months of work, made multiple recommendations—please accept them.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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