Aaron B. Zisser

Civil rights attorney and criminal justice reform expert


Criminal Justice Columnist

Aaron B. Zisser is the former San Jose Independent Police Auditor (IPA) and has dedicated his career to criminal justice reform, police accountability, and civil rights. Aaron has led large-scale prison reform efforts with the federal government and has investigated fatal police uses of force at the local level.

Aaron was a human rights and civil rights attorney with nonprofit organizations, a consultant on oversight and reform, and an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC. Aaron also worked as a prosecutor in a specialized unit of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office that investigates officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Aaron continues to work in police oversight in the Bay Area.

As San Jose’s IPA, Aaron reviewed Internal Affairs investigations of complaints of officer misconduct, including officer-involved shootings, other uses of force, and racial profiling. He also made recommendations to improve SJPD policies and prioritized community outreach and engagement.

Before his work as IPA, Aaron consulted for a variety of Bay Area-based agencies conducting oversight and reform, including the Blue Ribbon Commission reviewing the Santa Clara County Jail, and monitored Illinois prisons.

At DOJ, Aaron conducted “pattern or practice” investigations and monitoring of correctional and psychiatric facilities, mental health services systems, and schools throughout the United States. In addition to addressing unconstitutional conditions of confinement – with a focus on solitary confinement, mental health services, and use of force – he also evaluated whether states provided meaningful community-based mental health and disability services under the Americans with Disabilities Act and addressed the “school-to-prison pipeline” that disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities. This work, too, involved developing partnerships with advocacy organizations and other community groups. Aaron continues to work in the field of police oversight.

Aaron grew up in Campbell and lives in San Jose with his wife and two sons. He holds a BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley and a JD from Georgetown University. In his free time, Aaron is an obsessive reader of literary fiction, browses at used-book stores, and volunteers on the San Jose Library Commission.

Zisser: Flawed push for a new jail is a disability rights issue

New construction does not cure a broken jail culture. Outdated architecture didn’t kill Michael Tyree in 2015 and seriously injure Andrew Hogan in 2018; that abuse was the work of officers operating inside a culture of corruption and callousness accustomed to dehumanizing people who needed services, but instead received cruelty and neglect. Yet the County Executive’s...

Zisser: Police reform in San Jose requires overhaul of independent civilian oversight

The San Jose Charter Review Commission’s (CRC) recommendations last month to significantly overhaul police oversight will present a major test of the question posed in a recent Spotlight article: What do San Jose commissioners actually accomplish? But the crucial test is of the City Council because the commission developed eminently reasonable recommendations it then approved...