San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and Independent Police Auditor Eddie Aubrey standing at a podium.
San Jose's new Independent Police Auditor Eddie Aubrey speaks alongside Mayor Matt Mahan on April 16, 2024. Photo by Jana Kadah.

San Jose has appointed a new independent police watchdog after months of scandal and instability plagued the office responsible for investigating officer malfeasance.

Eddie Aubrey, who heads the office of professional accountability for the Richmond Police Department, is taking his expertise down south as San Jose’s independent police auditor (IPA). The San Jose City Council appointed him on Tuesday as it received a report showing complaints against police in 2023 have dropped for the first time for the first time since 2019 — albeit minimally.

Aubrey replaces interim IPA Karyn Sinunu-Towery, who has headed the office since June. The IPA’s office monitors and reviews misconduct investigations done by the San Jose Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit.

“I have held officers accountable. Officers have been terminated. They’ve been suspended, officers have been found not sustained, are exonerated or unfounded,” Aubrey said. “What folks have told me is they said you actually walk the walk, what you say is what you do about fair, unbiased, neutral investigations, no matter which side it ends up on.”

The new IPA brings more than 40 years of experience in prosecution, civilian oversight and as a former police officer, according to a city news release.

He spent eight years investigating police misconduct in Richmond, reviewing civilian complaints about officers and acting as the liaison between the police department, city officials and residents. He previously served as chief prosecuting attorney for Renton, Washington and independent reviewer for Fresno’s Office of Independent Review — which was influenced by the creation of San Jose’s IPA office. He was also judge, pro tem for seven years, a Los Angeles police officer for 12 years and Santa Monica police officer for five years.

Aubrey, who is African American and Korean, was an LAPD officer during the Rodney King riots in the early 1990s. He said it was that experience that inspired him to look for other means of protecting his community. He left the department in 1997 after receiving his bachelor’s and law degree while working as an officer.

“I was riding in a riot bus with my uniform on being a BIPOC person. I’m looking at my neighborhood burned down, shots being fired in the middle of the night, cars overturned… and I asked myself, ‘am I doing enough in the role of a police officer?’” Aubrey said. “I said I was doing a lot, but I can do more.”

Aubrey becomes the city’s seventh IPA on May 6, taking over the office during a tumultuous time. He follows Shivaun Nurre, whose five years as the city’s top watchdog came to an end last year after a drunken argument with police officers at a public festival. Just months after Nurre left, San Jose’s assistant IPA quit, leaving a scathing letter criticizing the city for ignoring the IPA’s office and its recommendations.

Since then, the council has declined to expand the IPA’s powers despite previous intentions, and thousands of dollars spent on studies to do so. In November, councilmembers rejected a proposal to give the IPA’s office increased authority, including the right to directly investigate some alleged police misconduct cases. The council instead voted to begin pursuing tweaks and improvements to the current police oversight model, including creating a uniform set of policies to guide how the IPA and SJPD’s internal affairs unit work together.

The decision capped more than three years of debate and delay about whether San Jose should beef up the IPA’s role, following calls for greater police oversight in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020.

Aubrey said he is willing to explore whether San Jose should have a different model and expand the powers of the IPA, but for now, the city has “a really excellent model” to hold police accountable.

“The recommendations I made in Fresno were the same thing. They said it was an agency with no teeth, but the recommendations were powerful,” Aubrey said. “And even though (the Fresno police chief) indicated that they were some tough recommendations, he accepted all of them — that’s the kind of collaboration that I’m hoping to have.”

SJPD complaints

Aubrey’s appointment comes alongside an annual report from the IPA’s office on complaints against SJPD officers, that found for the first time in three years, the number of complaints against police officers decreased.

The number of officers who received a complaint from the public decreased by 6% from the previous year. 285 officers, or 27% of San Jose’s 1,059 sworn officers, received at least one conduct complaint last year. In 2022, roughly one-third of officers received a complaint.

In 2023, the IPAs office received 367 complaints about officers, with 47 of those made by the police department. The number of complaints made by community members, 320, is also a decrease compared to 2022, when the community made 358 complaints.

Of those complaints, 26% of the allegations were sustained – meaning they were found more likely than not to be true – and another 5% went to supervisor review.

“That means over 31% of the allegations were actually dealt with face on,” Sinunu-Towery said to the council. “An officer had to improve his conduct or… face discipline and an improvement program.”

Most of those complaints were in the downtown area, and most were about police misconduct, according to the report.

Use of force complaints against SJPD officers from community members between 2018-2023. Data from the Independent Police Auditor annual report.

Homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright, who successfully sued SJPD after she was shot and injured by a rubber bullet, said she worries the numbers are down because people have lost faith in the IPA’s office.

“Not a lot of people engage with the IPA anymore. They just feel like they did it a couple times and nothing came of it,” Cartwright said. “That includes me.”

Mayor Matt Mahan said the police department believes the decrease in complaints is because of the increased training for police officers.

“This dedication to accountability is reaffirmed by SJPD’s positive reception to the five recommendations in the IPA’s report coming before the council today,” Mahan said.

Mahan also celebrated Audrey’s appointment, noting that he will be the bridge between residents and police.

“Eddie will help maintain trust between our residents and the people tasked with protecting them,” Mahan said. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have a new independent police auditor with extensive experience both working within and overseeing the conduct of law enforcement agencies.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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