Outside the San Jose Police Department
San Jose has mounted a monthslong public outreach effort to gain feedback for selecting the next police chief. Photo by Brandon Pho.

San Jose leaders could select a new police chief by September. But before they do, some advocates are urging them to speak with families who lost loved ones to police shootings.

The city has mounted a monthslong public outreach effort to replace former Chief Anthony Mata. The City Manager’s Office met with a consortium of grassroots social justice and faith groups, known as the REAL Coalition, at the end of April. The city also heard from hundreds of residents across six community meetings and an online survey. But advocates with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice advocacy group that works closest with victims of police violence, say they’ve been left out of the conversation.

“Whoever’s going to run the department needs to include us,” Rosie Chavez, an organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, told San José Spotlight. “Somewhere in those discussions should be someone that has been impacted by the violence.”

San Jose Police Sgt. Michael Pina shot and killed Chavez’s 33-year-old nephew, Jacob Dominguez, while Dominguez sat in his car after being stopped by police in East San Jose in 2017. A federal jury found Pina liable for excessive force and awarded Dominguez’s family $1 million in damages. Chavez and other families have bonded through their unique pain to change the region’s political and social landscape with their advocacy.

De-Bug founder Raj Jayadev told San José Spotlight the city hasn’t contacted the organization for input on San Jose Police Department’s next chief.

“From our experience, the community input process for the police chief selection has mainly been performative,” Jayadev told San José Spotlight.

SJPD officials referred San José Spotlight to the city manager’s office for comment. Office spokesperson Danielle Torralba said officials are open to hearing from De-Bug families, and invited them to contact the city before May 24.

“Various outreach and engagement methods were completed to gather input from individuals, families, workers and business owners in San Jose, including people who have or have had direct experience and interactions with public safety at some point in their lives,” Torralba told San José Spotlight. “Everyone was welcomed to participate.”

Silicon Valley De-Bug organizer Laurie Valdez — whose partner Antonio Guzman Lopez was shot and killed by San Jose State University police in 2014 — said the city should let De-Bug families meet with chief candidates personally. Chavez added that it’s the city’s responsibility to reach out to them.

Torralba said the city plans to include community members in panel interviews with candidates for chief.

During the REAL Coalition’s April 25 meeting with city officials, organizers raised the need for community involvement in the interview process. The coalition includes groups such as Latinas Contra Cancer, Lead Filipino, SIREN, Secure Justice and Sacred Heart Community Service.

Latinas Contra Cancer CEO Darcie Green said the city has shown genuine interest in outreach, but agrees there should be more of an effort to include people who have been directly affected.

“There are whole generations of people in our city who want safety and just conditions and view policing as just one way of getting at that — and the city continues investing in a way that assumes policing is the only way to achieve public safety,” Green told San José Spotlight.

With months to go before any final decision, Green said the city has room for more public forums.

“The city may want to think about reconvening the Reimagining Public Safety panels,” she said, referring to the community advisory committee officials launched in September 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The committee hit a snag in April 2021 when prominent members quit, claiming it lacked structure and had no focus on police reform. Organizers recreated the committee two months later and came up with a list of recommendations.

“Some of those recommendations are gaining traction and many have not been addressed,” Green said.

Valdez said the city needs a police chief who is from the community, not someone “from the outside.”

“If you’re from San Jose you’ll know exactly what the community is about,” Valdez told San José Spotlight. “If they can’t respect the community, how can they protect it?”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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