UPDATE: San Jose offers to reevaluate police reforms
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.

San Jose leaders are reopening talks on the status of hundreds of proposed police reforms to ensure they are swiftly addressed and true to their original intent.

The goal is to broker a meeting between city officials and advocates pushing to modernize policing in San Jose in the next month, said Peter Hamilton, an assistant with the city manager’s office. The meeting will aim to address concerns over the police department watering down public demands for change.

“We’ve made an effort to advance as many (reforms) as possible as efficiently as possible,” Hamilton said at Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting. “Sometimes that involves finding alignment with recommendations that the RIPS (Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee) committee made and existing city efforts.”

Hamilton acknowledged their process may have resulted in some of the committee’s recommendations being taken in a different direction than intended.

“(We want to) make sure that in leaning forward trying to get as many of them done as possible, we’re still staying true to their original intent,” he said.

The city’s acknowledgment of police reforms being diluted came from pressure by Councilmembers Peter Ortiz, Omar Torres and Sergio Jimenez during the council meeting.

San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata largely stuck to applauding the city and police department’s work in what they say are reflected in 267 completed recommendations, about halfway through the 536 currently listed. Many of the recommendations to the police department were the result of activist demands on the heels of protests that swept the city and the nation in the summer of 2020 after a police officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd.

“All I ask from the mayor and council is patience,” Mata said. “If there’s an issue, an important issue that’s a priority, we’re going to jump on that … if the community is affected in some way, to fix that, to repair that.”

Mayor Matt Mahan thanked the police department and city for its work on the reforms, while stopping short of any criticism.

“I think they’ve done a very commendable job of organizing and reporting out regularly,” Mahan said. “I’m very interested in the items prioritized, community based solutions to domestic violence, 911 call differentiation … violence prevention and community engagement, all really important things for us to continue to learn how to do better.”

The Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee held its first meeting in 2021, and after disbanding and reforming, it delivered 50 policy proposals and recommendations in 2022 to SJPD. Police identified several recommendations they say are already in progress. But Darcie Green, a community health advocate and former committee member, said the city has taken some of the policies and re-interpreted them, veering away from the committee’s original intent.

“These are just simply not the (our) proposals,” Green told San José Spotlight. “They may be proposals that the police department is moving forward that take ideas from the (our) proposals, but they are not the (same) proposals.”

A prime example is the “Campaign Zero” policy proposal Green authored, which detailed a yearslong path to divesting from the police as the primary means of addressing public safety in San Jose. The department says it’s tied Campaign Zero into Mahan’s Gang Prevention Task Force 2023-25 Strategic Work Plan, with its goal of preventing and addressing issues of violence among youth and adults.

Another city twist on the Reimagining Public Safety committee’s recommendation is the “We Keep Us Safe” policy, also authored by Green, which calls for a community-driven education campaign aimed at reducing reliance on police response. The police department said it’s in the final stages of hiring a vendor to meet that goal. But Green said it’s taken on a different form — “We Keep Us Safe” was supposed to be an initiative fully outside of the police department, with the vendor chosen through a community-led process.

“Community groups, real grassroots effort, place-based efforts to have micro solutions across the city,” Green said. “(It) was not meant to be housed, run and managed by the police department.”

Hamilton acknowledged that the “We Keep Us Safe” policy proposal has been collected into the department’s community engagement efforts.

“Upon consideration, (community advocates) think that it probably doesn’t belong there,” Hamilton said. “The police department leading that effort doesn’t meet their standards.”

The San Jose Police Officers’ Association has said it’d love to see more alternative policing solutions. Poncho Guevara, executive director at local nonprofit Sacred Heart, who also served on the Reimagine Public Safety Committee, said alleviating the burden of calls received for homelessness and mental health crises will help with recruitment.

“(There’s) this massive overreach in terms of what (police are) responsible to try and address,” Guevara said.

Guevara said the protests in 2020 opened a window of opportunity to reimagine public safety and have San Jose be a model for the rest of the country.

“Not only because of the protests out in the streets, but institutions and elected officials were falling all over themselves to say, ‘yes, we do have a problem,’” Guevara told San José Spotlight.

But more than three years later, Guevara said the San Jose City Council has yet to show the political strength to see police reform through.

“We know that law enforcement agrees we need to come up with different solutions,” Guevara said. “The council has utterly failed to listen to what’s coming from rank-and-file and listen to what community members want to see.”

Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.

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