One of the great ironies to be found in the SJPD command staff emails is the contempt in which top officers view transparency. This contempt, of course, would never truly be known unless conversations were held in a forum such as emails, which are subject to public record.
In August of last year, SJPD found itself under fire after the website Muckrock published documents that showed police had quietly acquired a drone through a grant program funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The decision to acquire the $8,000 drone was made with the City Council’s approval despite no public discussion, leading the ACLU, concerned citizens and community activists to express privacy concerns.
In a rare instance of proactive public relations, SJPD admitted that it should have conducted outreach beforehand and announced it would hold a series of community meetings to address concerns.
“In hindsight, SJPD missed an opportunity of communicating the purpose and acquisition of the UAS device to our community,” read a department press release. “The community should have the opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions, and express their concerns before we move forward with this project.”
But internal emails show a much different tone from command staff on how SJPD should use its new toy. In an Aug. 7 email to the chief, Asst. Chief Garcia voiced frustration with having to report to the city manager’s office on drone use.
“How many People do we need to run this by?!” he vented. “Geeezus!”
A day later, communications director Vossbrink chimed in to an email chain between the city manager’s office and SJPD command staff by suggesting the city “include critics and skeptics so that they're part of whatever process we develop and thus enhance transparency.”
Garcia sent a private email to Esquivel and Lt. Mata with the response: “0 M G !!!!!!!!!!!!”
More emails show Garcia and other command staff bristle at the thought that civilians or elected officials should be included in the process. On Sept. 29, after some back and forth regarding the drone with Jennifer McGuire, then budget director in the city manager’s office, Garcia wrote a private email to Esquivel that read: “Bro….. I’m kinda speechless. They are terrible.”
When asked what he meant, Garcia said he wasn’t sure. “I will say during the time there was a lot of hoops to jump through, but I don’t know specifically who I was referring to,” he said.
While the emails seem to suggest SJPD command staff has one persona in public but another when they believe no one is paying attention, Chief Esquivel appeared to distance himself from comments made by his No. 2.
“Eddie can speak for himself,” Esquivel told San Jose Inside. “I know you’re talking about one or maybe two emails. I deal with thousands of emails. That’s not really who I am. I consider myself very professional. I’m proud to wear this badge and I’m truly committed to making this organization better. So, it’s not where we put on one hat and then put on another when we’re not in front of the public. I’m not a politician.”
Liccardo, who most certainly is a politician, declined to speak on the contents of the emails, instead ceding judgment on the matter to Dueñas, his newly installed interim city manager.
“The city has policies for using email and other communications, and we are all subject to those policies and rules,” Liccardo said. “I’m confident the city manager is going to handle this appropriately.”