San Jose residents can now text anonymous complaints about police
Photo courtesy of San Jose Police Department.

For the first time in San Jose’s history, residents can share anonymous feedback about their experience with police via text message or online and file official complaints about alleged police misconduct online.

In a move toward improving police and community relationships in San Jose, the city’s Independent Police Auditor announced this month the launch of a new website designed to take anonymous complaints about the San Jose Police Department. The role of the IPA in San Jose, a position currently held by Shivaun Nurre, serves as the city’s police watchdog that receives public complaints about a police officer’s behavior.

“This has been an ongoing effort in Silicon Valley to really allow for the community to share with us their thoughts,” Telina Barrientos, IPA senior analyst, told San José Spotlight. “The idea is really about transparency.”

The San Jose City Council established the IPA in 1993. In 1996, San Jose voters made it an official arm of city government. Its goal is to boost confidence in the police department by tuning in to the public’s concerns and suggesting improvements and policy changes in the department.

In 2017, the office partnered with the tech company My90 to modernize its approach and extend the reach of its modest office of six employees.

“Partnering with My90 seemed natural,” Barrientos said. “(This) allows us to reach more districts and all of the ZIP codes.”

Besides allowing for online and text message complaints, the new website provides an easy avenue for residents to provide general feedback about law enforcement in San Jose by answering questions such as “SJPD officers treat people of all races and ethnicities fairly,” or “The police department holds officers accountable for inappropriate conduct.”

Nearly 150 people had responded to the questions as of Wednesday afternoon. Their answers are anonymous but the respondents can be categorized by age, race, gender and ZIP code.

“It allows — via an interactive dashboard — to see what other people are thinking,” Nurre said. “If I’m a young person, do other young people share my thoughts or am I an outlier?

The new partnership comes four months after a new report revealed an increase in the number of internal complaints at the San Jose Police Department and allegations tied to excessive use of force spiked by 39 percent — despite a decrease in citizen complaints for the last five years.

The report, which shows 248 citizen complaints were reported in 2018 to the IPA.

Residents can also file complaints in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Though the complainant is asked to provide details of the incident, they’re not required to give their name or contact information. By removing language barriers, allowing for anonymity and providing an opportunity to text complaints, the idea is to attract as much feedback as possible. Complaints via text can be sent by texting “@IPA” to 39242.

“It’s a free service for the public,” My90 Chief Executive Officer Kona Shen said, adding that the service makes it possible for residents to “safely” give feedback about the police. “We’re trying to remove as many obstacles as possible so that people can give that input.”

The tech company is responsible for the data collection, data analysis and website where results are shared.

The effort is supported by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office. My90 has also worked with other area police departments and nonprofit organizations to collect public feedback.

“SVCF is proud to support this important effort to enhance communication between the public and the Independent Police Auditor in San Jose,” Gina Dalma, senior vice president for public policy at SVCF, said in a statement. “It’s one of the best uses of philanthropic dollars to invest in tools that enable fact-based decisions around public policies and public safety.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

A previous version of this story included the incorrect spelling of My90 CEO Kona Shen.

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