In its quest to hire its next police chief, San Jose hosted its first virtual community meeting to see what residents are looking for.
After months of heated debate surrounding police reform at city council, residents came to the Oct. 21 meeting with a unified message: San Jose needs a police chief who will engage with and understand its community.
The city will be conducting a national search to replace Eddie Garcia, who will leave the San Jose Police Department in January. While San Jose is casting a wide net, residents urged city leaders to select a local, tech-savvy chief with the desire to meet with residents face to face.
Resident Dean Daily said he expects the new chief to have strong communication skills in addition to a track record of reducing crime.
“I’d think one of the qualifications would be a working knowledge of Spanish. Vietnamese would be good, too,” Daily said.
According to U.S. Census data, almost 60% of San Jose residents speak a language other than English at home. Resident Brent Jones said the new chief needs to be able to work with all of San Jose’s residents.
“We need someone that understands that San Jose and the Bay Area is a melting pot — someone who really understands what community policing means,” Jones said.
Danny Garza, longtime resident of San Jose’s East Side, agreed, adding that to be an effective leader, the new chief needs to be actively engaged at public safety meetings and should encourage other officers to meet residents in different neighborhoods.
“Getting people comfortable with them on the street is important,” Garza said.
Carlene Schmidt said the new chief should also prioritize discussions with local community leaders. “It’s a great way to build trust with some of the communities who may not already trust the police,” she said.
Officer-community trust has been an obstacle for many San Jose residents, especially since March protests against police use of force following the death of George Floyd rattled cities across the nation.
San Jose leaders have taken steps to reshape policing by limiting the use of rubber bullets and voting to put a measure to strengthen the powers of the independent police auditor on the November ballot, but residents say more work needs to be done, starting with the new chief.
“People are looking for greater transparency in leadership across the board,” Jones said.
Those who attended the meeting also hope to see the chief embrace technology. San Jose police and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones recently announced a gunshot detection pilot program intended to help police respond faster to gun crimes.
Jones said Silicon Valley, “the nucleus of technological innovation,” needs a chief who is not afraid to test the latest tech, as high crime rates present a growing concern for residents.
The city hired a recruiting firm to aid its search, according to Lee Wilcox, chief of staff with the city manager’s office. Wilcox said the plan is to release applications in November but no date has been set.
City staff will continue collecting community feedback and will consider resident responses when narrowing down candidates during the interview process.
Wilcox said another public meeting will be held Oct. 22. The first meeting in Spanish will be Saturday and two other future meetings will be held in Vietnamese. More information on the meetings will be posted on the city’s website.
“With the new county regulations, we probably will have one or two in-person meetings outdoors in areas of the city where residents don’t have the digital equipment to get in touch with us,” Wilcox said.
The city also is sending out a survey to police department staff to get internal feedback and will eventually meet with union representatives.
Outgoing Councilmember Johnny Khamis will be part of the process but incoming councilmember Matt Mahan will be the one to vote on the new chief.
The new hire will be announced in late January or early February.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.