San Jose mayor supports police department reform, not defunding
A protester calls for the disarming of police during a march from the San Jose Police Department to City Hall Friday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

The San Jose Police Department won’t be defunded anytime soon if Mayor Sam Liccardo has his way. Instead, the mayor is pushing for reform through policy changes and a critical review of the department’s use-of-force policies.

A proposal introduced Friday would require the department to explain its decision to use rubber bullets, tear gas, riot gear, batons, flash-bangs and other use-of-force tactics to control crowds during the past week’s protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The requested report must detail the circumstances that gave rise to using those methods during the recent protests. Liccardo also asked the department to recommend whether or not “kinetic impact projectiles” — or rubber bullets — should be banned within the city.

“These past days of civil unrest have been the catalyst to police reform, but not the culmination. To ensure the reform process is transparent and meaningful, we need to understand where we are starting from,” Liccardo said in a statement. “The council and the public to fully understand whether SJPD’s use of force, for what is commonly referred to as ‘crowd control’ meet the high standards for the San Jose Police Department.”

Liccardo’s proposal to review and possibly reform use-of-force practices was co-signed by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Lan Diep and Magdalena Carrasco. It will be discussed during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Rubber bullets can cause unintended serious injury or death, the lawmakers said in their proposal, and tear gas can spread COVID-19, according to medical professionals.

While Liccardo and his colleagues explore steps to reform policies, some community leaders have called to defund the department entirely. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced funneling police department dollars to the black community, while a majority of the Minneapolis City Council recently vowed to begin dismantling its department entirely. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced $150 million in cuts to his city’s police department, angering the powerful police union.

But Liccardo said defunding law enforcement would be counterintuitive, citing U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that communities of color are disproportionate victims of serious and violent crimes.

“Defunding police will hurt the very people who have suffered the most from systemic racism in this nation,” Liccardo said. “Rich, white communities and businesses in suburban malls will just accelerate the hiring of private security guards.”

Liccardo’s proposal also calls for including the voices of communities of color, criminal justice experts, faith leaders and the police union in the report, as well as expanding the role of the Independent Police Auditor (IPA).

Liccardo proposes a charter amendment to allow the IPA access to police records, including body worn camera footage, in use-of-force cases.

As reported by San Jose Inside, the amendment could also allow the IPA to examine complaints from within the department, instead of solely relying on citizen claims, and view unreacted police reports involving officers firing service weapons or injuring people with physical force.

Most of these steps fall in line with President Barack Obama’s challenge for mayors nationwide to set “common sense limits” on police use of force, a pledge which both Liccardo and Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor signed.

San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia has publicly defended his department’s “use of force” decisions, doubling down Thursday by saying officers used force only in response to violence from crowds and “agitators.”

“The protests aren’t being met with force. The violence against our police officers is what’s being met with force,” Garcia said. “This police department is using force in response to a crowd’s behavior.”

Capt. Jason Dwyer, commander of special operations, said the use of rubber rounds, tear gas and flash-bangs were the only option during the heated protests.

“If you subtract those things from the equation, then what’s left? We have archaic skirmish lines of police officers with 42-inch hardwood batons,” Dwyer said. “You tell me which one’s going to look worse: people rubbing their eyes and coughing, or officers striking individuals with batons, breaking bones and God knows how many other injuries?”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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