San Jose’s police watchdog is on his way out after little more than a year on the job. Independent Police Auditor (IPA) Walter Katz is reportedly taking a bit of a pay cut to advise Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on law enforcement.
Before coming to San Jose, Katz worked in Los Angeles County as a public defender and then a deputy inspector general overseeing the sheriff’s office. In November of 2015, he succeeded retired judge LaDoris Cordell as San Jose’s IPA.
According to a story first reported by The Daily Line, a newsletter about Chicago politics, Katz was flown into Chicago last fall for a panel on police reform, where he talked about San Jose’s hiring process for a public safety oversight head. Though advice went unheeded, he left a positive impression.
“[W]e spoke to a lot of people to get a sense of who around the country was doing the best work on police accountability and Walter was on almost everybody’s short list,” Adam Gross, of Business and Professional People for The Public Interest, told The Daily Line.
Katz said he has reviewed several investigations in San Jose that reflect some of the problems being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice in Chicago. Like Chicago, San Jose has come under fire for policing black and Latino communities more heavily than their white and Asian counterparts. However, a wide gulf exists between the homicide rates for the two cities.
San Jose had a 25-year high of homicides in 2016 with 47. Meanwhile, Chicago led the nation with an a reported 762 murders last year, a 54 percent increase from 2015. Additionally troubling, in February 2015 The Guardian reported that Chicago police were using off-the-books interrogation compounds called “black sites.”
During his brief tenure in the South Bay, Katz launched a campaign funded by a $1 million grant from the San Francisco 49ers to improve the relationship between police and the communities they’re sworn to protect. Also during his tenure, the San Jose Police Department began using body cameras—a breakthrough that came after years of lobbying by his predecessor, Cordell.
According to the Mercury News, Katz was born and adopted in Chicago and spent the first few years of his life there before moving from Colorado to New York to Nevada and, eventually, to California.
Katz, 50, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the Windy City presented one of the biggest law enforcement challenges in the nation.
“This is the biggest policing challenge in America right now,” he said. “It’s the combination of two things happening at the same time—the significant increase in gun homicides [and] the issues identified by the Department of Justice.”