San Jose police evaluators vying for public trust
A San Jose police cruiser. File photo.

San Jose residents already have a tough time trusting cops, but now they must also work on trusting consultants reviewing the police department’s behavior and policies.

More than 40 people came together virtually on Tuesday to meet for the first time with CNA Institute for Public Research, a Virginia-based nonprofit recently brought in by the San Jose Independent Police Auditor in response to growing tensions between the San Jose Police Department and the communities it’s tasked with protecting.

In its attempt to document residents’ concerns, at least four researchers engaged in the public forum where they fielded an onslaught of criticisms toward SJPD—including individual officers.

Coming off the heels of the first, now-crumbled community safety advisory board, Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium CEO Walter Wilson told San José Spotlight he would not attend Tuesday’s forum.

Wilson was the first to leave the city-moderated advisory board on April 22, publishing a letter with several other members highlighting a lack of structure from city leaders, no focus on police reform and Black leaders needing to prove their individual experiences with racism. The City Council recently voted to resurrect the advisory board, and city leaders vow to draft recommendations on police reform.

Wilson said the independent police auditor went about contracting with a consulting firm without any community input.

“It sounds like they’re trying to do the same thing all over again,” he told San José Spotlight. “They never pick consultants with input from the community. ‘We know what’s best, so we’re going to pick the consultant who we think is best to talk to you guys.’”

Another former member of the community advisory board, Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee and City Council District 5 candidate Peter Ortiz, attended Tuesday’s forum. He said residents’ experiences with police officers in their neighborhoods have to be taken seriously for the evaluation of SJPD practices to be truly effective and thorough.

“It is significant for those of us who live on the East side because of our community’s history of experiencing systematic racism while at the same time struggling with blight, crime and other illegal activity,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “Law enforcement has a role to play in keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

Monique Jenkins, research specialist for CNA’s Safety and Security Division, led a two-hour Q&A with residents—asking them to share their most substantial concerns about the San Jose Police Department.

Many residents expressed frustration over the use-of-force from officers who handled last summer’s protests in downtown San Jose. A report last month revealed a quarter of sworn San Jose police officers received at least one complaint in 2020, and 23% of the complaints contained allegations about use of force.

Some also said cops constantly rotating in and out of neighborhoods creates difficulties in establishing trust with any one officer.

Jenkins said the community’s input will be incorporated into their analysis, which will then influence the independent police auditor’s final report scheduled to be released and presented to the City Council in the fall.

CNA Co-Director James Coldren said the analysis will be an organizational review of how SJPD handles use-of-force incidents.

“Typically we get access to a lot of administrative data,” he said. “So we get access to their calls for service data, traffic stop data (and) arrest data.”

Chava Bustamante, former executive director of Latinos United for a New America, was also a member of the former community safety advisory board. He said he hopes the independent police auditor and consultant don’t repeat the same mistakes as city leaders who moderated the board.

“The main issues with the last advisory board was we didn’t have final say on the recommendations,” he said. “So I seriously doubt the (independent police) auditor will have more luck with the community in instituting changes.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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