San Jose: Internal complaints against police officers spiked
Photo courtesy of San Jose Police Department.

While citizen complaints against the San Jose Police Department steadily decreased for the last five years, the number of internal complaints increased and allegations tied to excessive use of force spiked by 39 percent, according to an annual report conducted by the city’s police auditor.

On Tuesday, San Jose lawmakers will hear the findings of the report, which shows 248 citizen complaints were reported in 2018 to the Independent Police Auditor — the city’s police watchdog that receives public complaints about a police officer’s alleged misconduct. That’s a 12 percent increase from 222 complaints in 2017 and 16 percent less than the 292 complaints in 2016.

“Our goal in providing this information about our audits is to ensure that the public understands that independence and objectivity are an integral part of the work of the Independent Police Auditor,” said Independent Police Auditor Shivaun Nurre in the report.

A whopping 46 of the complaints alleged force, up from the 33 that were reported in 2017.

Control holds, defined as “an officer’s use of his limbs, torso or body weight to move or restrain a person or to constrict a person’s movements” were the most frequently alleged type of force in 2018. The next were “takedowns,” when an officer forces a person against an object such as a car or a wall, or on to the ground.

Among the five officer-involved shooting incidents, the police auditor reported an incident involving a Hispanic woman with no known history of mental illness who was shot and killed by police officers, three of which had only one year of experience. The report said her “weapon” was a car. In a separate incident, a woman complained that an officer used excessive force when she was dragged out of her house.

Still, the report shows that there’s been a steady decline in both the number of overall complaints and those that allege excessive use of force since 2014.

In a separate internal report conducted by the police department, 218 conduct complaints containing 770 allegations were made by fellow officers or police officials. But only five percent of the allegations were closed with sustained findings. Since 2014, only three force allegations from internal affairs were sustained.

In 2018, 76 percent of all force allegations were exonerated, meaning that the officer’s actions were considered justified and lawful.

The report shows complaints were filed against 267 sworn officers, but only 43 investigations were conducted by the police department. Of the 43 sworn investigations initiated in 2018, there were a total of 83 misconduct allegations against sworn staff, compared to 99 allegations in 2017.

The most common types of misconduct allegations between 2014 and 2018 were listed as “Procedure” and “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer” violations. A procedural allegation means a cop violated department policies, such as failing to turn on a body camera during an arrest. A conduct unbecoming an officer violation involves an either off or on duty officer who acted in an indecent manner that reflects poorly on the department, such as an officer driving drunk.

While the independent police auditor and the police department agreed on 69 percent of cases, the auditor’s office pointed out several incidents in which the police department’s investigation was not “complete, thorough, objective, and fair.”

A major disagreement between the two revolved around use of firearms and force during altercations. The police auditor recommends that the police department “track and document when an officer points a firearm at a person as reportable force,” in an effort to reduce officers’ use of firearms.

“Transparency is critical to maintaining the public’s trust in the work of the IPA office,” Nurre and her staff said in the report. “The better that the public understands our role in the complaint and audit processes, the more willing the public will be to seek the services of our office, should the need arise.”

While the police auditor does not conduct investigations or discipline police officers, it evaluates whether the police department was objective in its decision-making process. The police department’s internal affairs unit conducts investigations of alleged misconduct.

“While the police department draws a distinction between a citizen complaint and department initiated investigations, a review of both categories gives the department the ability to identify trends and patterns to improve department training and supervision,” said Police Chief Eddie Garcia in a memo.

Garcia will present the internal affairs report alongside the police auditor’s report to councilmembers on Tuesday.

More renter protections and the Sonic Runway

The City Council on Tuesday will also discuss enacting a policy to curb discrimination against renters with housing vouchers and and bringing back the “Sonic Runway” art display at City Hall.

If adopted, the housing ordinance will prohibit a landlord from rejecting a potential tenant who receives financial support from rental assistance programs such as Section 8 vouchers. The initiative will also prevent landlords from explicitly advertising “No Section 8” on rental listings.

The Sonic Runway, an enormous light-art installation that converts music into light patterns, was a big hit among city dwellers. Now, the City Council will consider bringing it back for another seven years and vote on an agreement that works on establishing a more long-term version.

The installation costs will not exceed $500,000, city administrators said. If approved at Tuesday’s meeting, it will be installed in June 2020.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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