New San Jose police watchdog details plans to expand oversight duties

    Shivaun Nurre is coming into the job of San Jose Independent Police Auditor with a vision to expand the duties of the office, months after her predecessor resigned amid a high-profile fight with San Jose’s police union.

    But Nurre, 58, leads the office at a critical time — police officers across the country and in San Jose face mounting public scrutiny amid perceptions of racial profiling and excessive use of force. The San Jose Police Department is rebuilding after a divisive fight with City Hall over pension reform led to an exodus of officers. And the police union publicly butted heads with its last independent police auditor, forcing his resignation.

    As the independent police auditor, Nurre is tasked with assessing misconduct investigations in the police department for thoroughness and looking into complaints about police misconduct from the public.

    “I know there are some in the community that believe the police department doesn’t hold their officers accountable when they misstep,” Nurre said. “Oversight is a way to instill some confidence that officer misconduct is going to be taken seriously.”

    Nurre was appointed to the position at a San Jose City Council meeting in December, replacing former auditor Aaron Zisser, who resigned in August after less than a year on the job.

    Zisser quit after the San Jose Police Officers’ Association put pressure on him to step down following several incidents that caused tension between Zisser and the union.

    The union accused Zisser of bias against the police force, saying, among other things, that information regarding use of police force in his annual report to the city was misleading due to a small sample size of incidents and that he had attended what they viewed as an anti-police event.

    Zisser outlined concerns and suggested changes with the police auditor position in his 2017 year end report. These included encouragement to appeal disagreements between the IPA and police internal affairs, responding to the scenes of officer-involved shootings, conducting community outreach after shootings, investigating misconduct investigations initiated by the department as opposed to those reported by a citizen and a website for the IPA report.

    In response to Zisser’s suggestions, Nurre told San Jose Spotlight that she’s allowed for appeals when disagreements arise between the IPA and police internal affairs and plans to continue that practice.

    A website to disclose auditor reports is in the works, Nurre added.

    When it comes to allowing the auditor to go to the scene of officer-involved shootings, she said it’s “based on the circumstances of the event.”

    Nurre added that there’s been some talk of expanding the IPA’s duties.

    Nurre said the expansion would allow her greater access to misconduct and officer-involved shooting investigations.

    “Throughout the years other cities that have used the auditor model have expanded their duties to make them more comprehensive. I think it’s time for us to do the same,” Nurre said to Spotlight. When asked about investigating misconduct not brought to the auditor’s attention by citizen complaints she said “..the IPA model is an auditor model of oversight meaning that we review Internal Affairs investigations to ensure they are complete and fair. We do not conduct our own investigations.”

    Zisser said he could not comment on his resignation.

    After working in the office for more than a decade and serving as interim auditor four times, Nurre said what appeals most to her is learning the stories of individuals and digging into the facts of investigations — a skill she developed working in law.

    “I like going to the individual investigations because each one of them tells a story,” Nurre said. “I can review the body camera and see the analysis but what is really interesting is you are actually seeing the point in time when an officer is dealing with a member of the public.”

    Despite the rocky relationship between the San Jose Police Officers’ Association and Zisser, the union has voiced support for Nurre. San Jose Police Officers’ Association President Paul Kelly said Nurre has the right temperament to lead the office that investigates his union’s officers.

    “The San Jose Police Officers’ Association is eager to work with the new IPA to ensure the great work our officers perform day in and day out is evaluated in as transparent and open a manner as possible,” Kelly said. “We believe that Shivaun Nurre’s experience, professionalism and collaborative track record will serve San Jose and its police officers well.”

    Nurre first joined the San Jose IPA office in 2006 after ten years of legal work with the Deputy County Council for Santa Clara County, bringing a knowledge of the justice system with her. Much of her time in the IPA’s office has been as an assistant auditor.

    “In one sense you have some confidence that you know the ropes and are going to be confident with the policies and procedures, but one thing I do recall in terms of being with the office a long time is you get surprises,” Nurre said.

    Raj Jayadev, co-founder and director of Silicon Valley Debug, said he was disappointed that a community panel was not brought in to seek a replacement for Zisser. His nonprofit has advocated for criminal justice reform and assisted families dealing with the criminal justice system.

    Jayadev said he hopes Nurre will expand the role of auditor and continue listening to families affected by police violence, as Zisser did.

    “I’ve known Shivaun for years and I think she’s great and I think she’ll be great in the office,” said Jayadev. “One minor way to advance the value of the office (is the) IPA should be able to review not just civilian-initiated complaints and be able to also investigate automatically all use-of-force cases.”

    Asked about building a rapport with the community, which the union says has suffered in the wake of Zisser’s resignation, Nurre said she encourages and welcomes open communication between the public and the police auditor’s office.

    She will serve in the position until December 2020.

    “People should know if they are concerned about an officer’s conduct they should call us,” Nurre said.

    “You could watch something on the news that you thought was improper and call,” she added. “It could be something you heard from a friend if they are reluctant to call. Mostly the only way we know about misconduct is if someone reports it.”

    Follow Victoria Kezra @VictoriaKezra on Twitter.

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