In the years since George Floyd’s murder, San Jose has aimed to reform its police department, yet the number of complaints against officers has increased for the third year running, according to a new 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. The city’s Office of the Independent Police Auditor released its annual report this week for 2022, containing statistics regarding complaints and investigations into officer conduct.
It also makes recommendations to the department to improve policing in the city, which the police chief will respond to at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.
The San Jose Police Department employed 1,087 officers last year, and 362 of them received at least one complaint from a member of the public, or about 33%, the report said. An additional 55 complaints against police officers were initiated by the department, the report said.
“The IPA report illustrates how the department is holding personnel accountable for conduct,” an SJPD spokesperson told San José Spotlight. The department declined further comment.
San Jose Police Officers’ Association spokesperson Tom Saggau declined to comment on the report.
The numbers align with an upward trend of complaints in San Jose since 2020, when the city saw mass protests against police brutality, violence against protestors by police and broad calls for sweeping reform, touched off by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
In 2020, roughly a quarter of the department’s 1,147 officers received a complaint, at the time representing a four-year high, while in 2021, the figure jumped to 31% of its 1,138 officers, according to the police auditor’s office.
The number of officers facing multiple complaints also increased in some cases from the previous year. In 2021, 78 officers had two complaints against them, 17 officers faced three complaints and eight officers faced four complaints. In 2022, the number of officers with two complaints was down slightly to 66, while 20 officers faced three complaints, eight faced four complaints and four officers each had five complaints.
From each complaint, multiple allegations can arise. In 2022, the department’s officers had nearly 1,000 allegations made against them. Nearly half of the allegations were about officers not following procedures, policy or the law. Only 9% of allegations were about officers using force that was not reasonable by SJPD standards, slightly down from 2021.
However, the report also exposed a tactic by the police department’s internal affairs unit, which investigates the allegations, that could reduce use of force complaints. Since September 2022, internal police investigators categorized allegations about officers pulling a gun on a person as a procedure issue, instead of a use of force issue.
Shivaun Nurre, the independent police auditor and author of the report, disagrees with the categorization. One of her five recommendations to SJPD is to ensure those instances are tracked appropriately.
In a response memo to the report, Police Chief Anthony Mata said the department agrees with Nurre’s recommendation, and plans to change its policy regarding categorizing use of force by September.
In 2022, the police department’s internal affairs unit investigated and closed a total of 203 complaints about officer conduct, but those closed cases can also include incidents from several years. Among those 203 conduct complaints, 18% contained at least one allegation that was found to likely be true, an increase from 12% in 2021.
Nurre’s office said there was a “significant decline” in the number of investigated cases that were “fair, thorough and complete” in 2022.
She thought 56% of complaints closed in 2022 were fair after her first review, compared with 72% of the cases in 2021, 71% of the time in 2020 and 84% of the time in 2019.
Nurre also used the report to call for an expansion of her office’s oversight powers. Currently, the auditor can only monitor and review misconduct investigations by the police department’s internal affairs unit, but Nurre’s office does not have the authority to independently investigate allegations of misconduct.
Voters approved Measure G in 2020, which allows the city council to assign other duties to the auditor. In December 2022, the council approved a consultant’s recommendation to assign Nurre’s office misconduct investigators, but the change hasn’t been made yet.
The police union has challenged the legality of expanding Nurre’s powers, and the auditor’s report notes the union will likely want to negotiate with the city over such a proposed change.
The city’s Public Safety, Finance & Strategic Support Committee will discuss how to implement these expansion of powers at its June 15 meeting.