Police Auditor Gives a Nudge to San Jose

SAN JOSE (CN) — A police auditor told the San Jose City Council on Tuesday that the city needs to ensure that investigations of police shootings are authenticated by an independent panel.
     “We’ve seen a huge transformation in policing over the last 20 months because of officer-involved shootings,” San Jose Independent Police Auditor Walter Katz told the City Council. “Robust oversight is a benefit to the community, a benefit to the police department and ultimately a benefit to the city.”
     Police shootings, often white on black, have frayed relations between police and citizens in San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland and elsewhere. Katz said his office’s 2015 Year End Report, released in April, could help San Jose avoid the unrest those cities faced.
     The council voted to accept the 2015 Independent Police Auditor Report, but did not directly address the shortcomings Katz raised during the meeting.
     City Attorney Richard Doyle said the City Charter constricts the council from empowering the Independent Police Auditor, or IPA, to investigate each police shooting, allowing the office to investigate only incidents prompted by a citizen complaint.
     San Jose saw 12 police shootings in 2015, only three of which were subject to independent auditing by Katz’s staff.
     “Unless a complaint is filed, we have no insight into how well the administrative investigation is performed,” Katz told the council. “To me this is not a good approach.”
     Katz said such constraints make oversight insufficient.
     Only about 20 percent of citizens who have unfortunate interactions with police take steps to remedy it, Katz said, and only 20 percent of that 20 percent lodge a formal complaint, so only about 4 percent of people have bad interactions with police file a complaint.
     “Complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” Katz said.
     Police Chief Eddie Garcia said he would be glad to discuss ways to provide more oversight of police shootings, but the details of such an arrangement most be considered first.
     “As I mentioned, we conduct a separate administrative investigation on any shooting,” Garcia said in an interview after the meeting. “So if counsel were inclined to change the charter to give [Katz] access to DIA [Department Initiative Investigations], they would automatically have access to the shootings.”
     The report did show some progress. For instance, the city received 303 complaints about police in 2015, down from 357 in 2013.
     “We can do better, I know we can do better and our rank and file knows we can do better, and we will,” Garcia said.
     The police department investigates the complaints against it, and the IPA reviews that investigation to determine whether it agrees with the findings.
     The auditor agreed with the police department’s conclusions in all but nine cases last year.
     A disproportionate number of complaints involved officers with five years or less on the force. These officers make up 17 percent of the department, but generated 29 percent of conduct complaints and 48 percent of force allegations.
     Mayor Sam Liccardo called that a good sign, saying that if a large number of senior officers were involved in force complaints, it could indicate of a cultural problem in the department.
     “I think there are a variety of explanations for this, including younger officers working the night shifts and working in downtown,” the mayor said. “I think it’s something we can address with good training.”

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