How certain investigations of police misconduct cases are reviewed in San Jose could change if voters approve a measure in November that expands the authority of the Independent Police Auditor, a civilian police watchdog. In addition, the City Council could change the auditor’s duties without requiring a public vote.
Measure G also would change the size and composition of one of the most powerful commissions in the city — the Planning Commission. In addition, the measure would permit the City Council to extend the deadline for drawing new boundaries for the 10 council districts, if federal officials deliver census data late.
The measure came as city officials aimed to save costs by combining separate issues without significant opposition and require amendments to the city’s charter.
Expansion of police watchdog’s authority
The proposed expansion of the IPA’s oversight comes amid heightened scrutiny of police practices in San Jose and nationwide. In June, Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a nine-point plan for police reform.
City officials approved a plan Sept. 29 to work with residents and local organizations in addressing use-of-force complaints, the hiring of a new chief and different approaches to public safety. Come November, voters would decide whether to broaden the authority of the IPA, a government agency independent of the San Jose Police Department.
“We need to expand the duties, functions and role of the Independent Police Auditor,” said Councilmember Pam Foley. “They need to have more ability to do their investigation than they have had in the past.”
Currently, the IPA can review complaints from the public against the police officers to determine whether the investigation was complete, thorough, objective and fair. Changes proposed in Measure G would allow the IPA to review certain investigations initiated by the Police Department against police officers.
The auditor would also be able to review unredacted police records related to office-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents resulting in death or severe bodily injury without a complaint, and gain greater access to redacted police records under certain conditions.
Shivaun Nurre, San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor, said the passage of Measure G may expedite the IPA’s duties and responsibilities. She noted such changes currently require the vote of the public but the measure would allow the City Council to make changes without returning to voters.
Foley assured that the council would seek input from the public, the Police Department and the Police Officers’ Association before making changes.
A more diverse Planning Commission
Measure G would expand the Planning Commission to 11 commissioners from a seven-member panel. The City Council would appoint one member from each City Council District and one at-large member to the commission, which advises the City Council on land-use policy.
Following reporting from this news organization that led to backlash over the lack of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity on the San Jose Planning Commission, city leaders including Mayor Sam Liccardo suggested the changes to help give underrepresented communities a voice.
“The city is at a point where now, more than ever, there must be a deeper commitment to ensure every corner of the city has representation throughout the different levels of government,” said Rolando Bonilla, the only representative from East San Jose on the Planning Commission.
In 2019, Bonilla was appointed by the City Council to the commission after pressure from East San Jose community leaders for representation. Many of the commission’s members at the time were white and lived in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Now, the commission is led by two Latinx commissioners, with Mariel Caballero as chair and Bonilla as vice-chair.
According to Bonilla, Measure G would codify an appointment process that ensures commissioners represent districts across the city.
“We had to fight. We had to organize. We had to really be front and center to ensure that East San Jose was at the table where clearly other parts of the city were very well established,” Bonilla said. “Moving forward, you don’t want any neighborhood — whether it’s Almaden, Berryessa (or) East San Jose — to ever have to feel that they have to kick down doors just to be heard when they have every right to be at that table of the city of San Jose.”