San Jose launches portal of police misconduct records
San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose is hoping to make it easier for the public to unearth police misconduct records.

    The city launched a new web portal Friday where closed misconduct case information from the city’s independent police auditor can be viewed and downloaded. It does not include records from the police department such as body-worn camera footage or police reports.

    San Jose has had an independent police auditor since 1993. The auditor provides oversight, collects complaints from the public about officer conduct and reviews police internal affairs investigations.

    The portal is an effort to better align the city with landmark state legislation, SB 1421, that went into effect in 2019. For the first time, the law allowed certain police misconduct records to be released through the state’s Public Records Act. The portal allows for the police auditor’s review of case records to be searched by category, date of an incident and officer name, the city said.

    Such records, including investigations into shootings, sexual assault and dishonesty by police officers in California, were previously shrouded in secrecy, usually only released in some criminal or civil court cases.

    San Jose’s portal will allow anyone to access the auditor’s records about a San Jose Police Department officer’s misconduct without filing a public records act request with the city.

    “The great thing about this particular tool is that it is very friendly and available to the public who may not know the ins and outs of this legislation,” Shivaun Nurre, the city’s independent police auditor, said Friday.

    Importantly, Nurre noted the portal only includes case information from her office, including her staff’s notes and thoughts on a case, or communication with police about the case files. To gain a fuller picture of a case, Nurre said a person would need to get additional files from the San Jose Police Department’s website.

    The SJPD public records center is where body-worn camera videos, police reports, dispatch records and photographs are kept.

    Stephen Caines, San Jose’s deputy chief innovation officer, said public safety must go beyond providing services and include “robust oversight mechanisms” to keep a close eye on police departments.

    “I hope today serves as a reminder that some records are so sensitive that they need to be centralized, made accessible and mindfully presented to our community,” Caines said during a news conference Friday.

    Caines led the effort to bring the portal to fruition with help from five undergraduate law and engineering students from Stanford University, UC Berkeley and UCLA.

    “I strongly encourage other departments and municipalities to follow the lead of San Jose,” Caines said.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said the user friendly organization of the portal is critical to transparency.

    “Simply putting information out there with a large data dump does not make it accessible for the public, for the media or for anyone else who is trying to get the information,” Liccardo said Friday.

    While SB 1421 requires release of records for a handful of categories of misconduct, a follow up law, SB 16, will expand the number of categories of misconduct that must be publicly available beginning in 2023.

    The new categories under SB 16 include any time officers are found to have been discriminatory or overly biased in their work, made unlawful arrests or searches, used excessive force, or failed to report other officers who used excessive force, according to the city.

    Liccardo said he thinks San Jose’s new portal could influence other cities to expand their transparency efforts around police misconduct.

    “We have been on some of those websites and to be blunt, it’s really hard to find information,” he said. “When their residents see that this is something that’s possible if you live in San Jose, they’ll demand more and hopefully we’ll see more accountability throughout the state.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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