San Jose’s interim independent police auditor does not want to expand oversight powers to bolster investigations into police misconduct, despite previously saying she was in favor of doing just that.
Several city leaders took the same position during the Public Safety, Finance, and Strategic Support Committee meeting on Thursday—with four out of five councilmembers voting against recommendations that would allow the independent police auditor (IPA) to directly investigate police misconduct allegations. Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, the committee chair, was the only dissenter.
The San Jose City Council will consider the recommendation of expansion on Nov. 14. If approved, the auditor’s office could create three investigative positions so that it can be the lead agency in some police misconduct cases. Currently, the San Jose Police Department investigates itself on any officer misconduct issue through the internal affairs unit.
At the end of 2022, the city council hired Moeel, Lah, Fakhoury, LLP, a San Francisco Bay Area litigation boutique that focuses on criminal justice reform, to find ways the city could expand the oversight powers of the IPA. The report, which came before the committee on Thursday, recommended the city adopt a hybrid program where the IPA will investigate misconduct allegations and the police department will investigate criminal charges.
Most large cities across the nation have some form of a hybrid model, where both police and either the IPA or a citizen advisory group investigate cases of police misconduct, said Peter Hamilton, assistant to the city manager.
But the IPA office’s interim leader, Karyn Sinunu-Towery, said she doesn’t think anything should change within the office at this time and she will not be supporting a full expansion of the office’s powers. She said she will instead recommend that the city add just one additional investigator to strengthen the current system by creating better auditing standards for investigations.
“I am a real fan of the current system,” Sinunu-Towery said during the meeting. “Over the years there have been many positive policy changes. And this is if we move away from the model we have I fear that we would need an auditor for the auditor.”
Sinunu-Towery isn’t alone. The police union has consistently challenged the legality of expanding the IPA’s investigative powers. Union leaders criticized the former head of the IPA, Shivaun Nurre, for advocating for the change in her annual reports. Nurre announced her retirement in June after getting into a verbal argument with a police officer while drunk at a public event.
Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei and Councilmembers Bien Doan, Arjun Batra and Omar Torres agreed, saying it doesn’t make sense to expand the IPA’s powers and noting the current system is already effective. But Jimenez said he did not vote alongside his colleagues because he wants more information.
“I’m not sure that the status quo was the best approach forward if we’re thinking long term,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “And I’m not sure we need to be making long-term decisions about the IPA’s office based on current conditions, which are not ideal.”
The IPA’s office has been in disarray for months, with both Nurre and the assistant IPA Eva Roa leaving the office. When Roa resigned, she submitted a scathing letter to city officials about their failure to support police oversight and accountability.
San Jose was one of the first cities in the nation to implement an independent police auditor in 1993, which monitors and reviews misconduct investigations done by the police department’s internal affairs unit. At this time, the IPA cannot independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing by officers.
The desire to expand the office’s investigative powers ramped up in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers with former Mayor Sam Liccardo directing the city to find ways to give more power.
Part of Liccardo’s recommendations included bringing Measure G before voters. The measure passed in 2020 and allowed for the IPA to audit investigations by participating in interviews, suggesting additional witnesses and reviewing all documents related to the investigation. Measure G may also give the city authority to change the IPA into a hybrid model, but leaders like Jimenez are waiting for the city attorney’s office to weigh in on that before voting.
But in the years since this initial push to reform the IPA, the number of complaints against San Jose officers has increased year to year, according to the IPA’s most recent report.
One out of every three of San Jose’s nearly 1,100 police officers received some type of complaint in 2022, a slight increase over 2021.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.