San Jose council gets failing grade for policing
San Jose police officers stand outside City Hall on May 30, 2020 on the second day of George Floyd protests. File photo.

    F is for failure.

    That’s the grade the San Jose City Council scored when it comes to decisions on policing, according to Sacred Heart Community Service’s report card. Advocates said the grades, released Monday, represent years of inaction on making meaningful police reform.

    “We need to make clear that our city council has failed us over and over and over again on the issues of policing and community safety,” Matt King, policy and political director for Sacred Heart, told San José Spotlight. “The rhetoric and lip service has been great. The action has been nonexistent.”

    The report card, in its second year, grades elected officials by how they vote on issues like homelessness, immigration and housing policy. The nonprofit analyzed decisions from January 2017 through 2022. Officials who have served for a shorter amount of time, including Mayor Matt Mahan and Councilmember David Cohen, have incomplete grades for certain categories.

    Mahan and former Mayor Sam Liccardo scored F grades in terms of policing, along with Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Dev Davis, Pam Foley and Cohen.

    Mahan said addressing police violence nationwide and in San Jose coincides with acknowledging underresourcing in police departments. San Jose has one of the smallest police departments of any major U.S. city, with more than 1,150 sworn officers for a city of more than 1 million residents. The city recently budgeted for more positions. By comparison, San Francisco employs roughly 2,100 sworn officers with a population of about 875,000.

    “We need to double the rate at which we hire police officers to address chronic understaffing that has led to unacceptable wait times for residents and virtually no capacity for community policing,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “We will do this while holding our officers to the highest possible standards, including by embracing independent oversight of citizen complaint cases.”

    The council voted to expand oversight powers for the city’s independent police auditor and launched a web portal for information on police misconduct last December. Data from last year’s independent police auditor report reveals about 31% of San Jose Police Department officers received complaints in 2021, a number that increased from 25% in 2020. Meanwhile, emergency response times are getting slower, despite increases in staffing and a nearly $20 million bump in funding this year.

    Former Councilmembers Chappie Jones, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza and Sylvia Arenas also received failing grades. Former Councilmember Raul Peralez scraped by with a D- for attempting to introduce policing and community safety onto the council’s 2023 agenda. Officials received varying scores in other categories such as renter protections, affordable housing and immigration.

    Cohen said while both the city council and San Jose Police Department are working to change policing in the city, the efforts take time. He said policymaking is a balance between acknowledging police reform and ensuring residents have resources for emergencies and other situations.

    “Two things can be true at the same time: that there’s reforms that are necessary and different ways of doing things, (and) that there is a level of police support that’s needed to make sure there are services provided to all of our neighborhoods,” he told San José Spotlight.

    William Armaline, director of the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University and a member of Sacred Heart’s board, said the slew of F grades stand for frustration. Armaline, a member of the Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee, said the multi-year efforts of residents and organizations led to little action from city officials.

    The committee, founded by the city in the aftermath of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, made a series of recommendations last May in its 209-page report. Recommendations include a relief fund for police violence survivors, community programs in response to gender-based violence and expansion of community service officer programs for nonviolent or noncriminal calls.

    “There have been no meaningful reforms in policing,” Armaline told San José Spotlight. “As a councilmember, they have all the ammunition they need in the findings and recommendations of our body. It takes the political courage to do something about it.”

    Armaline said ongoing investment in the police department is not the answer. The committee found that 72% to 82% of 1,500 residents surveyed agreed with non-police approaches to address issues like mental health, homelessness and school safety.

    King said the grades are a reminder that inaction leads to real-life consequences for residents.

    “We want to spur the council to do the hard work on these issues,” King told San José Spotlight. “The purpose of this is not just to slap their hands. The purpose of this exercise is to also direct them to what they can be doing.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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