While the arrow on police militarization is clearly pointing up, crime is often described as cyclical. It appears law enforcement's use of deadly force could be similarly described. From 2000 to 2004 in San Jose, police shot 22 people and fatally wounded 13. But two important events occurred that final year, temporarily turning the spotlight on aggressive policing—and numbers dropped by more than half in an ensuing five-year period.
In March 2004, a grand jury opened a probe into the killing of Rudy Cardenas, who was shot and killed by a state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement officer. The agent, Mike Walker, confused Cardenas for a fugitive parolee and gave chase. It ended with an unarmed Cardenas being shot in the back because Walker believed he had a gun. The community was rightfully outraged, even more so when Walker was acquitted a year later under the defense that he feared for his life.
Eight months after that shooting, San Jose’s then-Independent Police Auditor, Teresa Guerrero-Daley, accused the department’s Internal Affairs division of intentionally dragging its feet when reviewing officer-involved shootings. Five of the six people shot by police that year had been killed. Under the microscope, a stunning drop in the number of officer-involved shootings occurred.
Over the next five-year period, from 2005-2009, the number of incidents in which police fired their guns dipped to 10, with just five people being killed. It now appears, however, that San Jose is experiencing another boom cycle, greater than the previous two five-year periods.
Efforts are being made by the current Independent Police Auditor, Judge Cordell, to have every SJPD officer equipped with a body-worn camera that can document all interactions. A pilot program is under way from now through December with six officers testing the devices. With the number of shootings up, and the city paying out millions in settlements due to conflicting narratives between suspects and cops, the shift to the digital documentation of events seems inevitable.
“Why wouldn’t you want to wear them unless you’re not following the rules?” Cordell says. “If you’re behaving, you want the cameras.”
UPDATE: San Jose Inside has learned that the pilot program for SJPD's body-worn cameras has been placed on hold. An email notifying stakeholders in the process was sent out Wednesday. The police union informed the department that it believes the program is a "meet and confer" issue.