San Jose Police Watchdog Aaron Zisser Denies Union’s Claims of Bias in Annual Oversight Report

San Jose’s official police watchdog has been accused of misconduct for omitting raw data from an annual report in a way that misled the public about racial disparities and physical force. The police union is now calling for an outside investigation to determine if independent police auditor Aaron Zisser should be removed from office.

Zisser, however, said the concern cited by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association (POA) has already been addressed in a revised report he’s presenting to the City Council Tuesday during the final meeting of the fiscal year.

“They keep repeating the same thing, that I wasn’t willing to make the changes requested by the council,” Zisser said. “That’s absolutely not true.”

In a letter to the council, however, the POA called the omission from the May report evidence of bias and a violation of city charter.

“The decision to file this formal complaint was not taken lightly,” the POA wrote in a letter authorized by 500 union members. “The police officers that serve our city must adhere to the highest standards of ethics and conduct in the performance of their official duties and when they do not meet these standards, then they are held accountable. We, as well as yourself, the city council, and the residents of San Jose, should expect no less from the individual appointed to oversee the members of the police department.”

More than 500 officers signed off on the missive, which takes issue with a passage from an earlier draft of Zisser’s year-end report in which he noted that white suspects are more than two-and-a-half times more likely that minorities to come away from use-of-force incidents with no charges. What he neglected to include were the raw numbers, which, according to the POA, would have shown that he based that statement on a small enough sample size to render the findings statistically insignificant.

When Zisser presented his report on May 22, the council had the same issue and voted to send it back to his office for revision.

“I guess the problem is you're presenting statistics as if somehow or another we should draw an inference from the conclusion, when I know that if there was just any change in any variability of one person in one incident in any of those categories [it] would lead to a completely different conclusion,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said during the May meeting.

Zisser acknowledged the criticism as a fair point.

“I think the use of statistics or percentages rather than numbers—I can see now that that was misleading,” he replied at the meeting.

Though it was apparently lost in translation, Zisser said, one of the points he was trying to make in the passage in question was about the limitations of SJPD’s public online use-of-force database.

Regardless, the police auditor has since corrected that part of the annual review, among a few other changes. Zisser said he met with City Manager Dave Sykes and SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia the morning after that council meeting to address those concerns. The latest version of the report has been online since last week.

“Everyone else has moved on, and the POA has not,” Zisser said. “It’s time to move forward and actually do the work.”

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for June 26, 2018:

  • The city plans to pay $59,900 to settle a lawsuit by 56-year-old Cosme Grijalva, who claims San Jose police arrested him for drug possession after conducting a warrantless search of his can. Santa Clara County’s DA dropped the charge after the court determined that the search was unlawful.
  • The council will talk about placing a few city charter amendments on the ballot this fall. One would prevent the mayor and council from being able to set their own salaries. Another would up the city’s cardroom tax from 15 to 16 percent, which would generate an additional $1.25 million in annual revenue. Finally, the city is trying to poll potential voters to see if they’re willing to foot the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars in general obligation bonds to fund emergency infrastructure and road maintenance or improved 9-1-1 communications and public safety facilities.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

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

6 Comments

  1. Union “claims” ? Come on are you serious? Did you watch the council meeting? Liccardo himself tore Zisser apart and questioned his method. More bias BS

  2. The INDEPENDENT police auditor is clearly carrying out an agenda that has no indication of fairness. This part of the divide with ALL people who are in opposite sides of an opInion is that poisonous people can skew perception with the omission or misuse of statistical data with faulty grounds to substantiate findings that have a great impact on the current political climate. This auditor’s performance before a formal council meeting was nothing short of apauling, as he boldly presented information that was manipulated and stained with implicit bias…. the very bias he is supposedly condemning…
    This is more reason for me to move to the quiet country and step away from all these poisonous people that fan the flames of division and hatred only to compromise the integrity of a community… sickens me

  3. I was an auditor for many years. If I had issued a misleading report like Aaron Zisser did, I would have been fired. Zisser is incompetent and needs to be fired. Once a report has been issued it is very hard to take it back. His do-over and apology isn’t enough to redeem himself.

    The police need to be held accountable—but by someone who knows what they are doing. Zisser has proven he is not qualified to do job. The council needs to hold Zisser accountable. He has lost the confidence of the public and the police department. It has taken years to restore the police department. The city can do better than Zisser. I hope the council and mayor do the right thing.

  4. Here is the link to the Council meeting that was referenced above…

    https://youtu.be/ozfbKPciJz8

    The Police Auditor refuses to make any changes to the end of year use of force audit starting at 3:34 when he was asked to do so or at least add some footnotes to his narrative to help explain what he actually meant. Here is his quote used by Jennifer, “They keep repeating the same thing, that I wasn’t willing to make the changes requested by the council,” Zisser said. “That’s absolutely not true.”

    I think the video would challenge that assertion by Mr Zisser and in fact show that statement to be completely untrue. So with that quote in mind, I would like to submit a series of questions to all of you…

    #1 – What if an officer knowingly and purposely included misleading, inaccurate and false information in a police report or use of force investigation, then submitted that report to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution, then refused to amend that report after admitting it was “misleading” when confronted in a meeting with the Chief of Police and the City Manager?

    #2 – What if Mr Zisser was involved in that officer’s subsequent disciplinary investigation as the Police Auditor?

    #3 – What do you think his recommendation might be as the appointed representative/watch dog for fair and impartial policing for the City of San Jose and most importantly the citizens interest’s he is supposed to be safeguarding?

    I can assure you Mr Zisser would rightly conclude that he officer is biased in his reporting, trying to hide the actual facts of the incident, also trying to justify his/her poor decision making along with violating numerous City and Police Department policies and maybe even State law. I can guarantee you, based on his over zealous prior recommendations for discipline, this current recommendation would be swift and severe and would likely include that the officer be terminated. So my last question to you is this…

    #4 – Why wouldn’t Mr Zisser be held to the exact same set of standards that he insist’s officers should adhere to on a daily basis?

    I think I know the answers to these seemingly simple questions, but Id be interested to know if you all see the same glaring conflicts of interests that I do. The righteous and indignant attitude, the clear political agenda that he conforms too and the painfully obvious attempt to damage the reputation of SJPD with its citizens and community. It is clear political hypocrisy at its finest and a wonderful example of a person bent on the destruction of this Police Department who will say and do anything to protect his job which is now in serious jeopardy. As it should be…

    The Police Department has had it’s issues with Mayor Liccardo and generally he is not looked upon as a true and reliable supporter of the Department by the rank and file, but even he was taken back by the poor and obvious attempt to skew these declining use of force numbers in his favor. It is sad and unacceptable and everyone who sees that video and hears the pathetic verbiage and the lame excuses that comes out of his mouth, should be calling for his ouster. The public wouldn’t rightfully accept that behavior from a Police Officer, so why should we accept that from an appointed and not elected Police Auditor?

    We will see what kind of tolerance the Mayor and City Council will have for this blatant and inexcusable attempt at misleading the public. I hope they make the correct decision and terminate Mr Zisser’s employment with the City. He does not represent the morals, character and honestly the citizens of San Jose demand and deserves. I applaud the SJPOA and its officers for taking a stand and bringing this incident and report to the forefront and demanding his termination.

  5. Yeah, Mr Zisser is obviously unqualified and not the right person to ever have attained this position. Those responsible for his hiring are equally responsible.

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