UPDATE: San Jose City Council approves steps to begin police reform
Protesters faced off with a line of San Jose police officers in the third day of protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis. File photo.

San Jose lawmakers approved a series of steps that will lead to police reforms after 1,000 people contacted the San Jose Police Department between May 28 and June 30 to complain about officer use of force.

The steps, approved at the City Council meeting Aug. 18, include conducting independent, in-depth use of force reviews and creating a timeline for hiring a new police chief in light of Chief Eddie Garcia’s retirement

“Recent events nationally have put community and police engagement front and center. If anything, Chief Garcia’s retirement creates an opportunity for us to engage in further dialogue,” Councilmember Lan Diep told San José Spotlight Aug. 17. “With a new chief onboard, it’s a clean slate or an opportunity to go in a new direction.”

Residents will be able to participate in discussions surrounding recruitment of a new chief — a process that could take six months or more. Lawmakers did not outline the process for involving the public in the police chief hiring process, and said they’ll revisit those details later. 

Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said she wants to start the process as soon as possible. 

“I want to make sure that our residents continue to have confidence in what we are doing and that we are being as transparent as we can and honoring their feedback,” Arenas said. 

City leaders urged the Independent Police Auditor to hire a consultant to conduct a more in-depth report of police use of force. They also kickstarted a plan to ask the public what policing strategies will be best for neighborhoods, especially in areas that have historically high crime rates. 

“We have, in this society, come to rely on 911 and our police officers, our emergency response and just a few individuals in the emergency response to handle the myriad of problems that we have in not just criminal cases. Many of them are social issues,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, who is a reserve officer himself. “I don’t think that that’s proper, I don’t think that’s the best response we should be giving to our community.”

A handful of residents from Sacred Heart’s “Showing Up for Racial Justice,” which mobilizes white people to advocate for people of color, demanded the city defund the police. 

“After decades of broken promises and empty reforms, black and brown communities continue to be the targets and victims of police violence,” a statement from Sacred Heart said. “We must address the urgent needs of San Jose black and brown communities and we’re demanding that defund police and fully fund community services.”

Councilmembers also suggested the city partner with experts such as Greg Woods, a justice studies professor at San Jose State University, to educate residents and lawmakers about the historic relationships between law enforcement and the people they are meant to protect. 

“If you don’t have a clear understanding of the history of police and law enforcement, I think it’s more challenging in terms of ‘how do we correct or change or fix law enforcement to be more responsive and supportive?’” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said Monday.

From the end of May to the end of June, the city’s Independent Police Auditor received 11 complaints of excessive force, according to a memo by Shivaun Nurre, the city’s Independent Police Auditor.

Five of the complaints alleged use of rubber bullets. One alleged use of a baton and five others cited injury as a result of force.

Some footage capturing confrontations between officers and protesters during demonstrations in May against the police killing of George Floyd publicly on the police department’s website.

The council postponed a vote on changes to the Police Department Duty Manual and banning rubber bullets and carotid restraints, which block blood flow to the brain. 

“I was appalled to see the use of rubber bullets on our own residents,” Councilmember Maya Esparza said. “We need to be better as a city. That should not be a go to tool that we use.” 

In one such situation, a local musician was shot in the eye while playing music during protests against the police killing of George Floyd. The vote on those changes will be heard next week or the following week.

“We have to remind ourselves that we are 50 years removed from Kent State, where live ammunition was shot into student protesters in Ohio,” Woods said. “And that was that was shocking to the American population, and as a result, there was a commitment towards less lethal force.” 

Current City Council discussions are showing a revived commitment to reducing lethal force, according to Woods. 

“This brutality — although less lethal than live ammunition — is shocking to our conscience,” Woods said. “I think that it’s time to put it to bed.” 

On Aug. 4, the City Council approved a measure for the November ballot to extend the auditor’s powers to better monitor officer conduct.

Angel Rios, deputy city manager, said the city should channel public anger into action. 

“This is going to be some of the most important work that we do over the next few months,” Rios said. “And our goal is going to be to outline a framework and a process that is going to be neutral, open minded, candid, objective and has a racial equity lens included in it.”

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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