Mayor says San Jose is safest Bay Area city — not everyone agrees
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan boasted San Jose is the safest city with the lowest homicides per capita compared to Oakland and San Francisco in 2023. File photo.

Last month, the mayor of San Jose made a sweeping declaration online about his city’s safety record.

Mayor Matt Mahan’s office calculated that San Jose boasted the lowest homicides per capita compared to Oakland and San Francisco in 2023. His office used state population data and reporting by NBC Bay Area, which attributed its crime statistics to the San Jose Police Department. The mayor hailed San Jose police for solving 100% of homicide cases between 2021 and 2022.

But not everyone feels this makes San Jose the safest, nor is it a proper barometer for community safety. Community leaders say there are other areas affecting safety where San Jose falls behind, such as traffic fatalities and economic hardship.

Margaret Petros, executive director of the Silicon Valley nonprofit Mothers Against Murder, advocates for families of homicide victims — but said public safety is more complex than that.

“Every other day I read a press release from the San Jose Police Department about traffic fatalities,” Petros told San José Spotlight.

“Hit and runs, DUIs — how many of these auto fatalities are victims of crimes?” Petros told San José Spotlight. “What types of services have been provided to their families? I bang my head on brick walls about this.”

Jose Valle, who was formerly incarcerated and works with community organizing group Silicon Valley De-Bug,  said criminal activity often arises from economic hardship and questions how Mahan’s safest city declaration reconciles with his push to expand the city’s police force.

“Looks like we’re doing good. So should we spend more on the police or should we invest more on trying to solve some of the social ills in our city?” Valle told San José Spotlight.

Despite San Jose’s recent efforts, the city of roughly 1 million residents still has one of the smallest police departments of any major U.S. city. The short-staffed police department had 1,063 sworn officers as of August last year, according to the department, including 24 recruits in field training and 41 recruits in academy training.

Tom Saggau, a spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said low homicide rates don’t eliminate the need for more officers.

“Homicides ticking down has absolutely zero to do with whether or not there are enough officers to respond to calls appropriately. That’s not a fair assessment on staffing,” Saggau told San José Spotlight.

He said a better indication of safety in San Jose — and police department hiring needs — is 911 response time.

Saggau pointed to the department’s current performance in responding to priority 2 calls, which deal with injury or property damage, as well as all missing children under the age of 12 and disabled people. The goal for priority 2 calls is to achieve a response time of 11 minutes or under. The department has averaged more than 20 minutes on those calls, according to San Jose’s annual report on city services.

He also said some homicides that happen within a home setting, such as a domestic disturbance, can’t be prevented by an increased police force.

“You could have a cop on every street corner — that’s not going to prevent that crime,” Saggau told San José Spotlight.

Mahan told San José Spotlight safety encompasses a variety of factors beyond homicide, but said more police officers are needed.

“Our officers work day and night to protect our neighbors from all threats — whether it be theft, assault, domestic violence, drug possession or child abuse, and we can always do better,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “Hiring more police officers will give our department more bandwidth to solve crime, keep our residents safe and reduce response times when every second counts.”

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

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply