In an effort to bring fresh ideas to San Jose’s police force and attract more outside candidates to be the city’s top cop, City Manager Dave Sykes has put a two-week pause on the selection process.
The city is looking to replace former Police Chief Eddie Garcia who retired in December after 24 years with the department. But Garcia was promoted to chief after decades in the department. Same with his predecessor Larry Esquivel. City Hall has consistently looked internally to fill the job — promoting longtime, loyal cops instead of bringing in new ones.
That has some local activists worried internal candidates won’t bring much-needed changes to the police department that’s battled with racist Facebook posts, excessive force complaints and officers targeting and taunting peaceful protesters.
“It’s good when you promote from within — in any company — because people know the layout but it also can be a pitfall,” said LaToya Fernandez, an educator and Black Lives Matter organizer. “Because the way that (SJPD) has been operating has made a lot of our community members not feel safe, not feel protected, so it makes you question those on the inside.”
Out of 18 candidates who applied for the job, it’s unclear how many were external candidates. After Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo dropped out, just one external candidate remains — Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers — but he too once worked in the San Jose Police Department.
The other five finalists vying for the job currently work for the department.
Sykes put the process on hold a day after San José Spotlight asked his office how many external candidates were recruited or applied for the job.
“We committed to bringing together a diverse candidate pool and a candidate pool with a mixture of internal and external perspectives,” Sykes said. “Although we have a super strong internal candidate pool, we have fallen short on establishing an external perspective to be included in the community process. Therefore, we have decided to pause the process for two weeks to see if we can shore up the external candidate pool.”
Walter Wilson, CEO of Minority Business Consortium, said SJPD’s actions during this summer’s George Floyd protests only support the department’s need to find outside candidates. He said SJPD officers played a role in injuring citizens with excessive force and rubber bullets during local protests.
“You got some people who oversaw the beating of a bunch of innocent protesters during the Black Lives Matters/George Floyd movement,” Wilson said “Not one of them spoke out against the brutality that they did against these innocent people who were marching peacefully. They need to bring in some fresh blood.”
In addition to Bowers, the contenders include Deputy Chief of Police Anthony Mata, Deputy Chief of Police Heather Randol, Police Captain Jason Ta, Acting Police Chief David Tindall. That means all five finalists have some ties to the department.
Tindall, Mata, Randol and Ta have all worked for SJPD for more than 20 years. Bowers worked with SJPD for seven years.
Garcia — who became chief in 2016 after 24 years of service to SJPD — was in a similar spot to Tindall when he became chief. He too served as acting chief after his predecessor, Esquivel, retired in 2015.
Esquivel worked in the department for more than two decades.
Raj Jayadev, founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the city is in a transitional phase where the function of policing in society is being reimagined. Such a change calls for an outside outlook.
“I think it’s healthy to have candidates that don’t have a lineage from the South Bay police department,” Jayadev said. “We actually have an opportunity to act on major shifts, because we have a changing of the guard at the captain’s chair. I think it is well worth it to try to get a fresh perspective.”
Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the local NAACP, said bringing in an outside perspective would be good for SJPD, but he’s concerned about the sudden change in the process.
“What’s going to make this pool better? They haven’t had the community forum yet to find out if the community even likes those five people, right?” he said. “It sounds as though they have a feeling that one of those five or six was going to win and they didn’t want that to happen. So that’s what is concerning.”
Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said there are a few reasons why San Jose may struggle to get more external candidates. The first is the cost of living. The median home price in San Jose is $1.4 million, which can make moving to the area difficult.
The other reason is that SJPD has the smallest department per capita compared to the other 30 largest cities in the U.S. It also suffers from slow emergency response times due to a lack of resources.
“You look at those factors with impending budget cuts coming again and it makes it a tough sell for San Jose to recruit,” Saggau said.
Internal candidates may have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the diverse issues facing the city, he added, but it’s hard to make a comparison since there’s been a historic lack of outside leadership.
Saggau said he hopes the city does not lower its standards just to get more external candidates. SJPOA President Paul Kelly added that more delays in the hiring process could threaten public safety.
“This will be the third extension of this byzantine process and each day of delay stalls our ability to agree to and enact improvements to our operations, to vigorously address our ever increasing emergency response times and to reduce crime,” Kelly said in a statement. “It’s time to make a decision and stop kicking the can down the road.”
To help the public learn more about the police chief finalists, San Jose is hosting a police chief candidate forum Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. The city canceled the forum originally planned for this weekend.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.