San Jose’s City Council mended fences earlier this week when it restarted a group to examine police reform. But findings in a report on police misconduct suggest the city has ways to go.
The Independent Police Auditor’s report examined complaints of police misconduct in 2020 and contains key statistics that concern local activists, including those involved in the resurrected Reimagining Public Safety Committee.
The report found that a quarter of sworn San Jose police officers received at least one complaint in 2020. Residents filed more allegations of misconduct in 2020 than any of the past four years, and many came in during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in May and June last year. Twenty three percent of the complaints contained allegations about use of force.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Sam Liccardo emphasized that most of the hundreds of thousands of citizen-police contacts in 2020 did not result in complaints.
“It’s really important for us to pay attention to complaints because we know it may be indicative of an issue, but it’s also really important for us to see the whole iceberg here,” Liccardo said.
But advocates of police reform are disturbed by some of the report’s findings and feel it reaffirms the urgent need for significant changes in San Jose policing policies.
“I think when you look at the numbers, the use of force feels very high,” said Jahmal Williams, co-chair of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet. “We know that statistically most encounters with police are non-deadly, don’t involve weapons. So the idea that there’s that much force being used in non-lethal situations is absolutely concerning.”
Williams was one of seven leaders who resigned from the San Jose Reimagined Safety Advisory Committee in April. He joined the new committee earlier this week.
William Armaline, director of the San Jose State University Human Rights Institute, said he’s alarmed that one in four officers had a complaint filed against them last year.
“It’s not 80% of the force… but it does tell us that it’s not a few bad apples,” Armaline said.
Shivaun Nurre, the independent police auditor, issued seven policy recommendations for the San Jose Police Department, including implementing a policy for social media use by officers and a proposal to open administrative investigations whenever officers are named as defendants in civil suits.
Nurre said the recommendations are in response to incidents that occurred in 2020, such as last June when four officers made racist remarks over social media.
But the police auditor’s office did not issue recommendations about use of force or misconduct during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Nurre said the IPA outsourced two independent agencies—the Center for Justice Research and Innovation and the Independent Police Oversight and Review Group— to examine use of force and investigate police actions during the protests, respectively.
The report on police protest actions will be made public this summer, while the report on use of force will be finalized this fall.
Paul Kelly, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, said in a statement to San José Spotlight that many of the auditor’s recommendations have been, or are being implemented by the San Jose Police Department.
“We will continue to provide important perspectives from a street cop’s perspective into the creation of policies and procedures that are fair, reasonable and improve outcomes,” Kelly said. “We are pleased that this IPA report, as with virtually every other one, agrees with an overwhelming number of Internal Affairs investigative conclusions.”
Spokesman Tom Saggau said the association only objects to the proposal to initiate an investigation whenever an officer is named in a lawsuit. He added that there already are so many processes to start and investigation into a police officer.
“I think folks for the most part know that there’s mechanisms to make complaints against officers, so if there’s something filed in a lawsuit, that shouldn’t necessarily trigger an investigation into an officer because we’ve seen many lawsuits that have just been completely off-base,” he said.
Williams said he doesn’t take issue with the IPA’s recommendations, but he doesn’t believe they will change some of the fundamental problems he sees in policing.
“A policy around social media doesn’t eliminate white supremacy in the police force,” Williams said, adding that he would like to see recommendations that address how to limit police intervention in mental health crises.
Armaline is more sparing of the auditor’s recommendations.
“I think they made some really good recommendations, I don’t have problems with them,” Armaline said, adding that there are more powerful ways to change policing—such as eliminating qualified immunity—but he doesn’t think it would be appropriate for the independent police auditor to make these kinds of recommendations.
Auditor needs support
One concern among activists is that the independent police auditor doesn’t catch every incident of alleged police misconduct. A recent analysis by The Marshall Project found that about 1,300 people went to the ER after encounters with San Jose police officers from 2017 to 2020.
“I think the way to look at these IPA complaints is they’re very likely representative of a larger set of experiences that just never became registered complaints,” said Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug. “A number of complaints aren’t even going to make it to the desk, so to speak.”
Armaline said the auditor faces a significant hurdle in letting the public know it exists as a place where they can send complaints about police misconduct.
“I think that the auditor’s office needs more resources or needs more access because it just seems that this whole process is way too long,” he said.
A larger discussion
One person who reached out to the IPA last year was Jimmie Tyrrell, a San Francisco resident who submitted a complaint in May 2020 after learning that San Jose police officer Jared Yuen was temporarily assigned to an off-street role. Yuen was caught on video aggressively confronting protesters. He also allegedly fired less than lethal projectiles at people.
“The protests happened because officers like Derek Chauvin were not reprimanded and punished appropriately in a timely manner,” Tyrrell wrote in the complaint, which he posted on Reddit.“If officers like Yuen are handled the same way, then we can only expect more unrest and rioting as a result.”
Tyrrell told San José Spotlight that he contacted the police auditor with hopes it would trigger a larger discussion in the police force about how to properly handle large-scale civil unrest.
“Jared was ready to go to war that morning,” Tyrrell wrote. “I hoped the IPA investigation would identify where this aggressive police attitude came from and work with the police force to make sure it doesn’t crop up again.”
Sergeant Christian Camarillo told San José Spotlight that Yuen is still employed by the San Jose Police Department. He’s in a position where he has no contact with the public.
Nunez questioned why Yuen is still employed by the police force.
“Why is that person still on administrative assignment?” he asked.
Nunez said he wants to see more community input before policy changes are made, with a larger discussion focused on police reform that represents more voices in the community.
He also wants to see action taken now, rather than later.
“I think that there has to be a much larger conversation that’s limited in time,” Nunez said. “I don’t want a conversation that takes another six months or a year.”