Sheriff Wants SJPD Fingerprint Program

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The San Jose Police Department is thinking of getting out of the fingerprint business. As a result, a battle for millions of dollars in equipment and staffing, and has been quietly waged for months between the SJPD and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office over who should process criminal prints.

While the county operates the jails, San Jose currently has a unique $4.1 million agreement with the state, called Cal-ID, which allows the city to contract out booking and latent prints—those lifted from a crime-scene—for itself and 17 other South Bay cities and towns, including Campbell, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Milpitas, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara.

In July, the San Jose Police Department—depleted by retirements and defections to other agencies amidst the city’s salary and pension cuts—saw its fingerprint backlog grow to an astounding 1,800-plus property-crime cases. Violent crimes such as assaults and homicides were given priority. Noticing the growing number of unresolved cases, and citing shoddy processing of prints handed over by SJPD, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office began lobbying county officials for control of all prints done during bookings, commonly called “10-prints.”

“We at the sheriff’s office are the custodian of record,” Sheriff Laurie Smith says. “It’s kind of a bad system if you ask me, that one person is creating the records and we have two full-time people doing nothing but fixing booking errors.”

San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore disagreed with the suggestion that his fingerprint division was incapable of fulfilling its duties.

“If they’re challenging the work ethic of our people, they’re way off base,” he says.

In 2011, the SJPD accumulated more than 7,700 latent prints, according to Tamara Baker, who oversees SJPD’s fingerprint division. While the division has 15 people on staff—five less than it should, Baker says—only two of those civilian cops are certified fingerprint examiners who can sign off for prints to be admissible in court.

Chief Moore admits his department has been overwhelmed as the ranks shrunk. This spring he reached out to the county, expressing interest in forming a hybrid model for fingerprint analysis with the crime lab at the District Attorney’s Office. “To me it makes perfect sense,” he says.

But Sheriff Smith, whose fingerprint division currently consists of two highly trained latent fingerprint experts and a couple of cross-checkers, says her office is better equipped to take over, at less cost.

“Not only do I think we could [take it over], I think we could do it a lot cheaper,” Smith says. “We know we could knock off $1 million easy”

The sheriff is no doubt proud of her two-man crew of Richard Reneau, the Sheriff’s Office fingerprint identification director, and Tim Fayle, a latent fingerprint examiner recently brought over from Australia. Reneau has more than 30 years of experience in fingerprint analysis, getting his start at J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI in 1970.

“There’s no training going on here,” Smith says. “These people started in this field. These people didn’t start as a records clerk. This is their field, their education, their training—so it’s a little bit different.”

While handling a substantially lower load—about 100 cases a month for unincorporated areas and Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos Hills—the most notable achievement of the Sheriff’s Office fingerprint division came earlier this year. Smith says her team found a fingerprint in the Sierra LaMar disappearance case. LaMar, a 16-year-old girl from Morgan Hill, went missing in March. Her suspected kidnapper and killer, Antolin Garcia-Torres, is currently in custody.

“We hit a fingerprint on the Sierra LaMar case,” Smith said, “and because I’m just so sensitive about that case I came down and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And they looked at me like I was crazy. You know, yes, it’s an identification.”

Moore admits that the SJPD won’t be able to continue its fingerprint program in its current state because of a recruiting drought, but he seems less than thrilled to give it away to Smith, who, sources close to the situation say, has aggressively pursued SJPD’s fingerprint business for longer than just this year.

“Realistically, the program is supposed to be self-sustaining, between the state and what the cities contribute,” Moore says. “But since we’re the biggest contributor, we also put a lot into it that’s not recovered.”

“I wouldn’t think of giving it up lightly at all. But since we’re not able to recruit fingerprint examiners easily, it may make sense [to give up 10-prints].”

San Jose Councilmember Don Rocha, an opponent of Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform efforts through Measure B, laid blame at the feet of city officials and the police chief for the increases in crime, which are reportedly up double-digits in nearly all categories compared to last year.

“The mayor and the police chief don’t want to admit that we have a problem,” Rocha says. “They don’t want to have that debate, because they don’t want to hear, ‘I told you so,’ and that they approached this whole issue [pension reform] the wrong way. They don’t want to hear it, and they don’t want the public to hear it.”

The county Board of Supervisors will have the final decision—whether the DA’s Office or the Sheriff’s Office assumes responsibility—and both Gary Graves, the county’s chief operating officer, and Police Chief Moore say a decision could come down as soon as the next few months.

“Everything is on the table at this point,” Graves says. “The city is recognizing at this point what has to be their core services, and in most cities the core service is not fingerprints.

“We’re investigating it, from an administration standpoint, both the DA crime lab and the Sheriff’s Office,” he continues. “There is sort of precedent for the crime lab to do fingerprints. The issue is really whether the crime lab is under jurisdiction of the DA. And we haven’t found too many instances where the DA is responsible for fingerprints.” 

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

10 Comments

  1. SJPD was a leader in this field for 4 decades.  Now thanks to Mayor Reed dismantling the PD. The citizens will loose this too.

    Has Reed admitted that he made a mistake yet?

  2. So the S/O with their 2 print examiners think they can do the job of SJPD, when even with 15 examiners, SJPD can’t keep up with the work load?

    I don’t get it.

  3. This is Income for San Jose , enough said , It should stay with San Jose’s Finest!  Of course the Mayor and Police Chief will never admit there is a Problem. It takes a Man to admit a Mistake and to own it . Qualities that neither of these two possess!

  4. In any business, you put resources where you have needs, or don’t do business.  If SJPD has/had a backlog of 18,000 cases, then its obvious SJPD needed more staffing in that unit.  That decision wasn’t made, thus here is where we are today. If SJPD leadership doesn’t feel this is a priority, then let it go.  SJPD can then sit back and be a follower and not be the leader, the industry standard, it once was…. and we will all know who will be to blame.

  5. Hey Sheriff Smith, your agency cant staff your VTA contract deputies 24/7 and relies on SJPD to handle your contract duties between 11pm and 630AM. You are supposed to pay SJPD for the cost of doing the work YOUR agency contracts for but hasn’t paid a cent. Last we heard you added 2 more midnight deputies to handle VTA issues but your midnight supervisors say not true.  What is ths story? Can the sheriff’s office do what it advertises or are your deputies just a bunch of posers?

      • You will have to ask Sheriff Smith – VTA contracts with the Santa Clara County Sheriff to police Light Rail tracks and station.  On the other side of the tracks (CalTrain side)is Union Pacific Railroad Property who contracts with Amtrak Police – good luck there though Amtrak has like 3 police officers who cover from SF- Oakland to Monterey and THEY DO NOT WORK AT NIGHT. The closest Amtrak Police Officer on duty between Midnight and 7 AM to San Jose is in…….. Los Angeles!

  6. I have to say: it was nice to read those quotes from Don Rocha. He clearly understands how badly the budget and public safety have been mismanaged in the city. This is yet another example of how badly the Police Department is in decline. And, all the while, Mayor Reed and his allies have, time after time, paved the way for the job of law enforcement in San Jose to become ever more difficult, expanding residential development by tens of thousands of units while police rolls get continually smaller.

    And, already, the issue of retaining police recruits has reared its head. Several of the recruits hired for the upcoming police academy have already ‘resigned’ – and before the academy had even had a chance to get started. It’s unclear at this point if it’s either 5 or 7, but, either way, 10% + attrition from the very outset exemplifies exactly the problem with attrition and retention that public safety leaders have been describing since the Measure V/W debate.

    Bottom line: retention will always be problematic when your employment practices fail to recognize the compensation and employment practices of the competition and then fail to compensate employees and potential employees at levels approaching that of competing municipalities. We are seeing the effects of these reckless and irresponsible measures at every level of the PD: resignations of officers which outpace retirements and in record numbers for the first time in (to my knowledge) PD history, dispatchers, call takers, support services employees, fingerprint examiners all leaving in breathtaking and unmanageable numbers.

    And then you have the trite, demonstrably false and oft-repeated statements from Chuck Reed which, if distilled, boil down to this simple truth: yes the pay and benefits San Jose offers suck and we’ve lost more employees due to resignations than we ever would have anticipated laying off, and we are struggling to hire replacements; but hey, at least we’re paying the remaining employees a lot less.