Police Watchdog Urges SJPD to Resume Use-of-Force Tallies

In his inaugural report as San Jose’s police watchdog, Walter Katz urges the city to take better accounting of how and when officers resort to physical force in the line of duty.

Nearly a decade has passed since the San Jose Police Department published a review of use-of-force cases, according to the Independent Police Auditor’s 2015 report released Monday. In 2007, the last time SJPD dedicated a public report to the issue, the agency found that officers used physical force 1,263 times in 2006.

Before her retirement last year, then-police auditor LaDoris Cordell suggested resuming that annual tally. Katz has taken it a step further, issuing a formal recommendation to improve transparency.

“That’s the number one recommendation and it’s something we’re going to emphasize again and again,” Katz told San Jose Inside. “It’s important because transparency is one of the cornerstones of accountability and procedural justice.”

Citizen complaints about excessive force fell slightly from 139 in 2014 to 121 last year, according to Katz’ report. Without an annual overview of all use-of-force incidents, however, auditors were unable to put that decline in context.

“I don’t know why we stopped generating that report,” SJPD spokesman Sgt. Enrique Garcia told San Jose Inside. “That was years ago, under a different Chief. The use-of-force complaints that we process are not separated by the level or type of force. If the allegation is a complaint alleging excessive force it is simply categorized as (F) = Force.”

A troubling trend emerged when Katz looked at complaints through the lens of officers’ experience. Rookie cops accounted for a disproportionate number of excessive force complaints.

Officers with four or less years of tenure made up 17 percent of the department but prompted an outsized portion of allegations of unreasonable force (48 percent), biased policing (35 percent), procedural violations (25 percent) and arrest and detention (30 percent).

Younger officers were also more likely to be subject to more than one complaint. Of the 27 named in three or more complaints, 16 had less than five years under their belt.

“That piqued our interest,” Katz said. “We don’t know exactly the reason behind this, but it’s something we will study in the coming year.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.38.10 AMAllegations against all officers declined overall from a high of 357 in 2013 to 303 in 2015. There was, however, an uptick in allegations related to arrest and detentions (from 79 in 2014 to 91 this past year) and biased policing (46 in 2014, 50 the next year).

The police auditor reviews complaints filed by residents against police officers, whether reported to SJPD’s Internal Affairs or to the IPA directly, but Katz’ office has no access to those complaints initiated from within the ranks.

In 2015, SJPD’s Internal Affairs unit closed 304 complaints. The number of sustained complaints—that is, where the department found an officer had committed some type of violation—fell from 25 in 2014 to 19 last year.

The IPA reviewed 292 of those cases and agreed with the outcome in 69 percent of them. That’s the lowest rate of consensus since 2011. In 2015, the IPA disagreed or “closed with concern” 51 cases where the investigation appeared less than thorough, objective or fair.

Among the sustained complaints was one against ex-Officer Geoffrey Graves, who allegedly raped a domestic violence victim in 2013. Another involved Officer Phillip White, whose combative tweets about his “God given and law appointed right and duty to kill” would have cost him his job had the union not helped him win it back.

In 2015, SJPD reported a dozen cases in which an officer shot and struck a civilian. Half were fatal. In eight cases, the civilian had a gun. Two held a bladed weapon. Four had a history of mental illness.

At the outset of his report, Katz remarked on changes in local leadership, with Cordell’s retirement after five years as IPA, Chief Larry Esquivel’s departure to lead Tracy’s police force and a changing of the guard in the Police Officers’ Association. All of this follows years of political strife over pension reforms and thinning ranks that leaves San Jose with fewer officers-per-capita than other major cities.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.14.02 AM

Panning out to the national level, Katz noted the unprecedented focus on policing practices in the wake of high-profile killings at the hands of law enforcement.

Conventional wisdom, based on the FBI’s record keeping, held that police killed something on the order of 500 civilians a year. The reality, which came to light after the Guardian and Washington Post began tallying the number of officer-involved shootings this past year, is at least twice that number.

Katz said he’s keeping a close eye on a state bill that would give his office access to police personnel records. SB 1286, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would also give the public a chance to review sustained misconduct charges against police.

“That would be very helpful to us in fulfilling our mandate,” Katz said, “to do our job as effectively as possible.”

The audit includes six formal recommendations.

  • SJPD should publish a yearly use-of-force report.
  • Police should learn the rights of the homeless and take care not to destroy private property when they dismantle encampments.
  • Dispatchers should be trained in how the public can file complaints, so they don’t give incorrect information.
  • SJPD should clarify a policy on how officers help people recover property during a legal dispute. Officers are supposed to remain neutral, but that wasn’t always the case.
  • When police catch unlicensed teen drivers, they should cite them because of the fact that they pose a greater public safety risk than any other age group.
  • The department needs to make sure that its officers understand up-to-date business licensing and permitting laws.

Here is the entire 142-page Independent Police Auditor report for 2015.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

5 Comments

  1. Without a Civilian Review Board comprised of educated, intelligent fair and impartial people with the power to investigate, suspend and refer to a District Attorney, who’s staff has not sold out the taxpayers , their findings with prosecution you’ve got nothing but $5,000,000,.00 settlements and murders..

    SJPD has slowly put in place an impossible barrier that completely hides their criminal acts. So whoever this new person is he will simply collect his check, become bored and either quit or get a seat on the Superior Court Bench like the one before Cordell.

    Jack Slade

  2. My favorite part of this article was the 2012 officer per capita visual. Wow 1094 officers . Would it really be that difficult to cite the 2015 numbers? Lazy ….. Slade its time to take your meds. We dont want to take another ambulance ride to EPS for that 72 hour hold.

  3. – “Officers with four or less years of tenure made up 17 percent of the department but prompted an outsized portion of allegations of unreasonable force (48 percent), biased policing (35 percent), procedural violations (25 percent) and arrest and detention (30 percent).” —

    Those officers, besides lacking the benefits that come with experience, are probably among the youngest on the department, making them likely to have a higher level of energy and aggression (a product of biology) and less of the initiative-dissipating political scar tissue built up in response to the Reed/Liccardo bloodletting. Add to that their lack of seniority (which puts them on the streets during the busiest hours) and youthful demeanor (which gets them none of the deference that older officers enjoy), and the mystery is likely solved. Also, if it is performance that is to be criticized, then why use “allegations” when “sustained complaints” provides the more accurate measure?

    As for the auditor’s insipid recommendations:

    • SJPD should publish a yearly use-of-force report.
    Yes, and they should also provide residents with an adequately staffed force.

    • Police should learn the rights of the homeless and take care not to destroy private property when they dismantle encampments.
    Here’s the choice: engage mentally ill and drug-addled homeless trespassers in a prolonged and nonproductive debate about the difference between items they claim as personal property (but can’t carry) and items they intend to leave as litter, or treat everything they can’t take with them as litter to be removed at public expense. Choose the former and not only will an agreeable resolution prove elusive, but the time and cost of the negotiations will be indeterminable. Choose the latter and serve the interests of sanity, the city budget, and the rule of law.

    • Dispatchers should be trained in how the public can file complaints, so they don’t give incorrect information.
    No training is necessary. Since dispatchers handle incoming phone calls, anyone desiring to file a complaint should be directed to a phone line where that information is available on recorded (in various languages) lines. Maybe the auditor can get this going in his spare time.

    • SJPD should clarify a policy on how officers help people recover property during a legal dispute. Officers are supposed to remain neutral, but that wasn’t always the case.
    If SJ’s high-paid police auditor was quoted correctly on this, someone should clarify to him the difference between past and present tense.

    • When police catch unlicensed teen drivers, they should cite them because of the fact that they pose a greater public safety risk than any other age group.
    Discriminatory enforcement? Really! (Note: because there is no accurate method for tabulating the number of unlicensed teens on the road or the number of miles driven per accident, this “fact” is no more than an assumption.)

    • The department needs to make sure that its officers understand up-to-date business licensing and permitting laws.
    “Permitting” laws? Who wrote this, a 5th grader?

  4. I know fairness may be too much to ask but can we also record and release the statistics on the suspects at the same time police use of force statistics are released? Can we record and release the information on whether the suspect was a felon or mentally ill and whether he has a history of assaulting officers? Was the suspect on probation or parole? Was the suspect a 3-striker with nothing to lose by attacking the police? Was the suspect on drugs? Was the suspect a member of a prison gang known to be hostile to the police? If transparency is one of our goals, let us then provide a complete picture of the situation not just that portion most detrimental to the public’s perception of their police officers.

    Mr. Katz, does your obvious anti-police bias and that well established chip on your shoulder permit you to include in your yearly report the statistics regarding the restraint an officer commonly uses? It is much more prevalent than force. If a suspect backs up, clenches his fists and snarls “You’re not taking me to jail!” an officer would normally be required and justified in going hands-on with physical force. However, what if instead of force, that officer uses a medley of skills (none of which are ever acknowledged or recorded) to contain, stabilize, and protect the dangerous and volatile subject by talking the suspect down and convincing the suspect just to cooperate? How do you propose to record the cases where use of a taser or carotid restraint would have been justified and prudent but an officer instead chose (tactically sound or not) to put himself at greater risk of injury and alternatively used only control holds and body weight to overcome the suspect’s resistance?

    Mr. Katz, as to your recommendations that, “SJPD should clarify a policy on how officers help people recover property during a legal dispute”, I have your policy right here: THE POLICE CAN’T LEGALLY DO IT!!! Without a court order the police cannot take disputed property from one person and give it to another person. Even with a court order it is the Sheriff’s Department CIVIL DIVISION that handles disposition of disputed property between persons. Does McGeorge School of Law allow its students to sleep in the classroom?

    I like you Mr. Katz. I understand you. I know exactly what you are going to do or say and how you will react to any police use of force incident that you can get your hands on. It would be nice though if fairness, transparency and our old friend the truth were actually your goal. Since it obviously isn’t, just admit to your bias. I could then respect you as well.

  5. SJPD created the documentation standard regarding use of force, pursuits, etc. EVERYTIME force is used by its officers, a detailed use of force report is generated by the officers present and the responding supervisor. The data is there, just ask for it.