In its last meeting of 2022, the San Jose City Council cemented its record as a body that has failed our city when it comes to policing and community safety.
Receiving a long-overdue consultant report on whether the city has the authority to create more independent oversight and investigations of police misconduct, the council collectively said “no need to rush” and put off the discussion for at least four more months.
“If it’s a good idea in 2022, it will be a good idea in 2023,” former Councilmember Maya Esparza said, speaking against an effort to move quickly to give more investigatory power to the Independent Police Auditor (IPA).
It is 2023 and it is a good idea. It was also a good idea in 1994, when the IPA office was created, as well as the summer of 2020 when our community rose up and demanded meaningful action on policing and community safety.
But after a lot of meetings, studies and recommendations, including 50 from the community-led Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee, our city council refused to even take this bare minimum action to improve the safety of San Jose residents.
The advisory committee’s membership included 28 community-based organizations from across the city, along with other officials appointed by the city council to advise the process. The committee spent nine months hosting public learning sessions featuring people who have experienced police harassment and misconduct. Multiple presentations were given on experiences people in different communities had with law enforcement, including people with disabilities, people in the Asian American Pacific Islander community and LGBTQIA+ people.
The committee’s final report was delivered to the city council in May 2022. The council took no action and city staff, instead, reallocated money set aside for the process to the San Jose Police Department.
That’s why in the latest edition of our report cards, which grade councilmembers on their performance on housing, economic justice and other issues, the entire city council gets an F for community safety and policing.
The record of failure on this issue stretches back decades and does not reflect the action or inaction of any specific mayor or councilmember. It’s been a collective failure, rooted in lack of effort and transparency. The people elected to serve this city have repeatedly given lip service to the idea of police reform and have chosen to not do anything about it.
But the purpose of this op-ed isn’t to reprimand the old council, it is to give the new mayor and council constructive input on how to get an A on the next report card. It is an open book test and we have the answers.
Due to the work of the Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee, the Race, Equity and Community Safety Committee at Sacred Heart, the Race Equity Action Leadership Coalition and other commissions and studies in San Jose, as well as across the country, we know exactly what needs to be done to make the city safe for everybody and to put an end to the harm done by police.
True community safety is a long-term project that requires us all to address the root causes of violence and crime in our communities, and build on the assets of our communities to ensure that they do not rely on police for an illusion of safety. Our demands will make it possible for San Jose to have the staff and funding required to achieve long-term, systemic transformative change. We have a new mayor and a new council that has a new opportunity to make change.
To get an A on community safety and policing, the new council needs to make a real investment in staff and resources to design and enact policies and programs that reduce police interaction and lay the groundwork for comprehensive prevention programs.
More importantly, this is how we all come together for a safer and healthier San Jose.
Poncho Guevara is executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service. Tomara Hall, Brandon Roul and Kiana Simmons are members of Sacred Heart’s Race, Equity and Community Safety Committee.
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