San Jose leaders resurrect police reform board
Protesters marched from San Jose City Hall to Highway 101 on May 29, 2020 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man. File photo by Katie Lauer.

Two months after seven activists quit a police reform group en masse, city officials and community members say they’re ready to bring the group back with renewed focus.

The San Jose City Council voted Tuesday to reform what was originally called the Reimagining Community Safety Committee, created in September in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. City leaders promised the group, now named the Reimagining Public Safety Committee, would address concerns about community safety and draft recommendations for police reform.

“The initial group started without focusing on police reform, and that was one of the concerns,” Deputy City Manager Angel Rios told San José Spotlight. “I think the important thing is that a lot of key organizations and key leaders stayed at the table to work through these issues.”

Forty six members made up the original committee. This time around, the group will consist of 28 voting members appointed by participating community organizations such as the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, Latinos United for a New America and the Vietnamese American Roundtable.

The members will focus on two key issues: Police practices/accountability and alternatives to policing, such as more mental health intervention for mental health-related calls.

The group can also add up to six members who have lived experience in the community or experience dealing with police and police reform.

Rios said that the community will benefit the most by keeping the group together.

“They (residents) will be the recipients of recommendations that will enhance neighborhood safety,” he said.

A youth council of 12 members will also be formed whose members will be appointed by community organizations.

Sacred Heart Community Service Executive Director Poncho Guevara says he’s excited about the youth council. His organization is participating in the Reimagining Public Safety Committee.

“We’re having a space that’s curated by and led by youth to make that happen,” Guevara said. “Not just jamming some token youth on a larger body, but creating space that’s by and for them.”

Rios said the groups, which will begin meeting in the summer, will work on an initial report for six months. Members will work with a consultant with a budget between $100,000 and $125,000.

Many residents raised concerns about the original committee’s purpose by the second meeting on April 9. The mass resignations paused the committee’s actions and forced the city to rethink its approach.

“It’s much more important to get this job right rather than to try and do so too fast or without adequate participation,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez. “I’m happy that no one was too proud to salvage what we established and that we decided to reset and ultimately get here to where we are today.”

Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet co-chair Jahmal Williams, one of the original committee members who quit in April, answered concerns from councilmembers who said that some groups, such as disabled individuals, aren’t represented in the new committee.

“I want you all to look slightly past all the names of the organizations, and think of the way those organizations intersect with neighborhoods, intersect with disabilities, intersect with homelessness and housing challenges,” Williams said.

Residents on Tuesday called for more focus on police reform.

“We’ve heard again and again from our community that we need to approach community safety in a holistic way that recognizes that safety does not equate to more policing,” said Nihar Agrawal, a public commenter with the Sacred Heart Race, Community Equity and Safety Committee.

Councilmembers acknowledged that the issues of community safety and police reform are broad. Mayor Sam Liccardo shared his concerns that community members tried to “boil the ocean.”

“I suspect this is going to go longer unless the leadership of this advisory committee really narrows the scope and focus to the highest-priority items,” Liccardo said.

Committee members agreed, pledging to focus on actionable items within the next six months.

The group looks to push new ways for police to intervene in non-violent interactions, including handing off dispatcher calls to a mental health expert team instead of the police.

The city will present a report on the committee’s findings to the council in April 2022.

“This is a very involved and complex undertaking,” said Vice Mayor Chappie Jones. “It will go well past six months. I have no doubt about that.”

While councilmembers agreed that the group will take a while to conduct its work, they hope it can work toward actionable solutions quickly before the city sees another repeat of controversial cases such as the shooting death of David Tovar Jr. at the hands of San Jose police.

“We cannot afford to lose one more life to violence,” said Councilmember Pam Foley. “To an autistic child who is unresponsive when a police officer comes to their direction. We cannot afford that anymore. Time is of the essence.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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