‘Without real power’: Another San Jose police watchdog leaves
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan boasted San Jose is the safest city with the lowest homicides per capita compared to Oakland and San Francisco in 2023. File photo.

San Jose’s assistant independent police watchdog quit months after the top police auditor stepped down, according to a letter obtained by San José Spotlight today.

Eva Roa, the city’s assistant independent police auditor since 2020, sent a scathing letter to city officials on Friday sharing her frustrations with city management for consistently ignoring the IPA office and its recommendations to “hold sworn city employees accountable for their actions.” It was sent to officials because she said she was not granted an exit interview.

In the letter, Roa said the Independent Police Auditor’s Office is largely without power and is ignored except in times of crisis or when the office submits its year-end report. She said IPA audits are not taken as seriously as those submitted by other departments, and she criticized the interim leader of the office.

San Jose City Manager Jennifer Maguire and Mayor Matt Mahan were not immediately available for comment. A spokesperson for San Jose Police Department was not immediately available for comment.

San Jose was one of the first cities in the nation to implement an independent police auditor in 1993, which monitors and reviews misconduct investigations done by the San Jose Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit.

In the years since George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, San Jose committed to reforming its police department, yet the number of complaints against officers has increased for the third year running, according to the most recent IPA report from June.

The San Jose Police Department seems to be “struggling to want to hold officers truly accountable,” Roa said in her letter.

“One would hope SJPD would want to improve practices and create a culture of accountability and responsibility,” Roa said. “However, based on some of the more egregious cases I’ve seen, SJPD and Internal Affairs lacks real accountability and growth as a department.”

Roa appears to have reached her breaking point in June when she said the city failed to communicate with employees after former boss Shivaun Nurre suddenly left her role as the independent police auditor.

Roa said employees weren’t clear on the ramifications of Nurre’s departure and were left “in the dark,” whereas she said other city officials and SJPD brass were consulted throughout that week.

“The kindest word I can find to describe the treatment of city employees as a whole, would be abominable,” Roa said. “The lack of leadership, accountability, and transparency to your employees is part of the reason why younger generations no longer want to work in civil service, especially for this city.”

In late June, the city announced Karyn Sinunu-Towery, a former 30-year Santa Clara County prosecutor, would take over as the acting independent police auditor while a search for a permanent replacement for Nurre takes place. Sinunu-Towery started her role at the end of July.

Roa also took aim at Sinunu-Towery in the letter, casting doubt on her abilities to lead the office and suggesting she is too trusting of SJPD’s Internal Affairs unit, which investigates cases of alleged police misconduct or policy violations.

“Currently, the leadership and staff of this office is flailing. The lack of knowledge, unwillingness to be critical of the work coming out of IA, and overall lack of understanding of what the office of the IPA does—and can do—is painful to see,” she wrote.

Sinunu-Towery said she was surprised by Roa’s resignation because Roa was a dedicated employee who was committed to the mission of the office, and whose departure will be a big loss.

“When the IPA left, she held the office together,” Sinunu-Towery told San José Spotlight.

However, Sinunu-Towery said she never heard concerns from Roa about the office’s direction or the city leadership’s investment in the IPA. She disagrees with Roa’s concerns about her leadership and the office’s direction more broadly.

“This is the first time I’m hearing about any discontent on her part,” Sinunu-Towery said. “I think we’re doing a damn good job and we’re auditing every single complaint that comes into San Jose, we’re asking for more work to be done, we’re doing all sorts of things that are truly professional audits.”

Sinunu-Towery said she has had meetings with the city manager, mayor and city attorney, and feels they are heavily invested in the success of the IPA office.

Sinunu-Towery said she is currently working on ways to expand the investigative power of the IPA’s office, which doesn’t yet independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing by officers—an initiative steeped in controversy and opposed by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. Though Nurre and former Mayor Sam Liccardo suggested the city should have broader investigative powers in December 2022, no action has been taken to move that forward.

Roa said the city pretends to care about police oversight, but disregards IPA’s recommendations and ultimately curbs auditors’ ability to actually do that oversight.

“I genuinely believe in the mission of the Office of the IPA but without true support from the Mayor and Council, the city is merely doing window dressing as to oversight of police misconduct and the concerns of the people of San Jose regarding such conduct,” Roa said.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter and Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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