San Jose Police Auditor Aaron Zisser Resigns Under Pressure From Cop Union, City Leaders

San Jose’s civilian cop monitor has agreed to step down, citing the police union’s “extraordinary personal attacks” on him as a distraction to grassroots reform efforts.

Independent Police Auditor (IPA) Aaron Zisser, a civil rights lawyer hired by a 10-1 City Council vote less than a year ago, tendered his resignation Thursday after a months-long campaign by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association (POA) to remove him from office.

“I am enormously grateful to community leaders and advocates for their consistent and robust support,” Zisser said in his written farewell to the council. “Unfortunately, the extraordinary personal attacks on my office and my work have become a distraction from the important goals of reform and expanded oversight of the police sought by the public and community groups.”

Leaders of one of those groups, People Acting in Community Together (PACT), said Zisser’s departure amid political pressure highlights the need for a stronger accountability model. They also denounced the POA’s tactics for widening the rift between SJPD and the marginalized communities it polices.

“The resignation of Independent police auditor Aaron Zisser after a heavy-handed attack campaign by the [POA] raises major concerns for community members about the city’s commitment to police transparency and accountability,” PACT organizers Frank Richardson, Akemi Flynn and Jennifer Goto wrote in a statement this morning. “People of color, immigrants, people with mental health issues, and houseless people, in particular, wonder who they can trust to ensure the safety and justice of our community. Police transparency and accountability are essential for trust, safety and justice, for both community members and police.”

Zisser—who at 37 years old became the youngest person to lead the Independent Police Auditor office since its creation in 1993—arrived amid a push by minority-led reform groups to expand civilian oversight by way of a ballot measure. From the outset, Zisser said he would leave that work to the community and focus on making the most of the limited, but in some ways untapped, authority of his role.

But the POA and Chief Eddie Garcia didn’t take well to Zisser’s approach. The union said he lacked requisite law enforcement monitoring experience and the chief found him overly critical of the rank-and-file. That was before Zisser’s first public misstep.

On May 22, Zisser presented to the council his first annual report, which included a statistic on police force that was misleading because it made no mention of the small sample size. Though Zisser ultimately revised that passage, the POA seized on the blunder, calling it evidence of an anti-police bias.

Over the ensuing months, the POA found more examples to support their claim. In July there was the photograph of Zisser posing with families of people killed by police. Then there was the unreported threat—an inmate filing a complaint through the auditor’s office said he would shoot the next officer he saw on the street.

By then, the POA refused to even talk to Zisser. And Chief Garcia, who said he respects civilian oversight in principle, had lost faith in Zisser’s impartiality. Both the union and the chief said they support the community’s desire to bolster IPA superintendence—just not with Zisser in charge.

“We are committed to strengthening the oversight function of the office and will make an announcement net week on specific steps to do so,” POA President Sgt. Paul Kelly said in a statement Friday. “It’s important to note that although we had serious, legitimate questions about the judgment and actions of Mr. Zisser over the course of the last several months, the SJPOA never questioned the vital and essential role that the office of the IPA plays in the administration of justice for all San Jose residents.”

PACT leaders said now is the time for the union to prove that their campaign against Zisser wasn’t just an excuse to stifle accountability reform.

“The SJPOA has claimed that they are supportive of increased independent oversight, just not with Aaron Zisser in the position,” the group said in an email sent to reporters this morning. “Now it is time for them to show it.”

That goes for San Jose’s elected leaders, too, PACT added.

“The severe limitations of our current model and the bullying tactics of the SJPOA have called into question both the independence of the IPA office and the ability for the IPA to make recommendations that would improve policing in our community and increase trust and safety for all concerned,” PACT leaders wrote. “In order to overcome this setback and attract qualified candidates to the position, the mayor and City Council must update the model to show that they do intend to have strong oversight comparable to that of other large cities.”

The council, perhaps hoping to avoid the embarrassment of voting out someone they hired less than a year before, offered Zisser a severance package in exchange for his resignation. Community groups—PACT, Silicon Valley De-Bug, the Minority Business Consortium and the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, among others—had run out of time to place an oversight expansion measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Despite the conflict that overshadowed those reform efforts, Zisser said he’s proud of the work his team accomplished this past year. They increased outreach and engagement, held two town-hall forums, prompted changes in how SJPD’s Internal Affairs unit investigates allegations involving physical force and racial profiling. They also called attention to SJPD neglecting to issue annual public reports on police shootings, something required by the department manual, and led a discussion on topics such as crisis intervention, body cameras and community policing.

Mayor Sam Liccardo commended Zisser for his service and wished him well in his next endeavor. “I respect his decision to step down and wish him well,” Liccardo said.

Shivaun Nurre, second-in-command at the police auditor’s office, will fill Zisser’s position until a permanent replacement is found, as she has done twice before upon the retirement of LaDoris Cordell and the departure of Walter Katz.

Zisser, whose last day on the job is Oct. 1, said he plans to continue his police oversight and law enforcement reform work in another capacity.

“I am eager to bring my skills and experience to reform efforts and to building and strengthening independent oversight around the region and nationally,” he said. “I have always sought to help communities accomplish real, lasting reform at those agencies that wield the implements of greatest governmental power and control and that therefore require the greatest scrutiny.”

Chief Garcia said he’s relieved by Zisser’s decision to bow out. “Now we can really start moving forward with someone that we could work with,” he said. “I wish him the best.”

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

20 Comments

  1. This was absolutely the right decision.

    Let’s hope the City does a better job vetting the next candidate for the job. Just because someone was on the Blue Ribbon Committee with LaDoris doesn’t make him the right person for the job.

  2. > Zisser, whose last day on the job is Oct. 1, said he plans to continue his police oversight and law enforcement reform work in another capacity.

    Ummm. Let me guess.

    In mama’s basement, watching episodes of “Cops” on TV, and eating Flaming Hot Cheetos.

    • Your a POA troll idiot. Wonder what credentials you have? AA from local community college in office admin? Certainly not a law degree with honors from top tier law school and 5 years at DoJ. He actually watches Blue Bloods. Ironic.

  3. I find it interesting that PACT, Debug, Asian Alliance etc. want more oversight but there is no proof that San Jose has a systemic problem with it’s current policing model. Just the opposite in fact. Sure one can pick out particular isolated deficiencies but that does not reflect the the department as a hole.

    Fun facts:
    Force allegations received by the IPA have been dropping year after year. This is despite the IPA advertising on buses (soliciting complaints).

    In 2017:
    Force allegations DOWN 37%
    Arrest or detention allegations DOWN 49%
    Search or seizure allegations DOWN 10%
    Biased Policing UP 8%

    SJPD responded to 177,700 priority calls. The IPA received 222 allegations.

    IPA salary in the neighborhood of $180,000 per year.

    • Perhaps most important is that in the last few years (since being anti-police became popular) is that arrests are down over 50% while crime rates are increasing.

      The demographic most entrenched with social media (and thus anti-police rhetoric) are our teenagers, whom are also trending as the most violent and prolific tyoe of criminal in the Bay Area.

    • The prior IPA (african american) said that it was very clear san jose has very small problems. Zisser determined there was a huge fire here prior to his first day. The de policing of San Jose is real and continues…. The young punks running around carjacking people have already figured that one out.

      • Zisser did not conclude there was “a big fire” here his first day. This is propaganda by POA. He clearly stated that Sjpd is not a dept in crisis and is one of more progressive forces in country. That does not mean oversight isn’t necessary or needs updating. Funny how police are now willing to consider more transparency. We’ll see. My guess is they will drag their feet. POA lies, delays and bullies.

    • All of these stats look good for police, but none argues against oversight. Police should always have oversight, whether there appears a systemic problem or not. One year ago, three SJPD were found by a federal jury to be responsible for the unwarranted beating of an Hispanic man. The jury awarded the defendant with more than he asked. The police found no fault with their actions. What a surprise. The police are representatives of the state and carry guns and have the power of their authority. Police in America have a long history of corruption, overuse of force, and mistreatment of suspects. The fact that by American standards, SJPD is better than most, doesn’t mean they don’t need independent oversight. Any reasonable person recognizes this. The POA doesn’t want oversight, doesn’t like oversight, and has done everything, including defaming an honest, qualified man for trying to do his job, and forcing his resignation. Oh, the IPA salary is consistent with the requirements of the position. On the other hand, why are police 7 of the top 10 earnings of San Jose employees with an average of over $500,00 including benefits, and including over $200,000 in overtime for many? Should police officers be doing double shifts rather than hiring more police? I wonder what some of them do during that overtime?

      • Where was all that oversight during the Trump rally that had police retreating away as unarmed citizens were beaten by a mob of Mexican flag waving Antifa, and Hillary supporters.
        Thug cops ordered to stand down?

  4. The entire Office of the IPA should be eliminated immediately and with extreme prejudice.

    The complete elimination process requires a ballot measure, if one is really needed at all to be rid of this scurrilous and feckless den of over-paid cop-haters.

    In the meantime, strip all funding from this egregious bane to the taxpayers and unleash the righteous San Jose Police Department so they may swiftly put the criminal element into permanent submission.

    David S. Wall

    • And how about having everyone where yellow badges on their jackets to identify them as undesirables. Then they can be loaded into boxcars and shipped out to work camps. And while we are at it, let’s have a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the Bill of Rights. Hail SJPD.

  5. Cops are already the most monitored and investigated public officials in the world. In additional to body cameras, each and every action is, or is potentially, reviewed:

    1. Reviewed by peers who will report misconduct they see (SJPD has no “code of silence” perhaps other Departs do/have but it exists mostly in the minds of Hollywood screenwriters)
    2. Supervisory review by their Sergeant; lieutenant; captain; deputy chief; assistant chief; Chief
    3. Internal Affairs Unit
    4. The IPA Office
    5. The district attorneys Office
    6. The Grand Jury
    7. The State Department of Justice
    8. The Federal Department of Justice
    9. The FBI
    10. Officers can be tried criminally once in State criminal court and again, on the same evidence, in Federal Court
    11. Sued in Civil court
    12. Excoriated in the Media
    13. Cops wear body cameras even though:

    A camera doesn’t follow the eyes or see as an officer sees. A body camera is not an eye-tracker and it photographs a broad scene but can’t document where within that scene an officer was looking at any given instant. An officer may not see action within the camera frame that appears to be occurring “right before (his) eyes.”

    A body camera can’t acknowledge the physiological and psychological phenomena known as “tunnel vision”, often experienced under high stress. As a survival mechanism, the brain screens out of the perceptual field, information not considered vital for survival at that moment. Justification for a use of force comes from what an officer reasonably perceived, not necessarily from what a camera saw. Film captures everything and will not then convey the same sense of threat that the officer experienced using only that information his brain allowed him to process at the instant of violence.

    The camera does not record tactile cues, and “resistive tension” is critical to officers in deciding to use force. It may prompt them to suddenly apply force as a preemptive measure, when a suspect suddenly, subtly tightens up, but on camera it may look like the officer made an unprovoked attack.
    The camera can’t record the training and experience an officer brings to an encounter. Suspect behavior that may appear innocuous on film to someone unaccustomed to violence can convey the risk of mortal danger to a streetwise officer. An assaultive subject who brings his hands up may look like he’s surrendering, but is often instead assuming a combative stance, signaling his preparation for violence. The camera just captures the action, not the interpretation.

    A camera can see better in poor light than can an officer. The high-tech imaging of body cameras allows them to see and record with precision, information not possibly available to an officer at the time the incident is occurring. An officer’s assessment of the potential threat and his reaction may then be based more on experience, context, movement and a suspect’s posturing than on visual clarity. If an officer is expected to have seen as clearly as the camera did, his reaction might seem inappropriate.

    Camera angles, recording speed, sound or lack of sound, all are recorded differently on antiseptic film than these same factors are processed by an officer during a fast breaking, no-rules, violent event. Cameras also only record in 2 dimensions and depth perception, not apparent on film, is often a critical factor in officer decision making in violent situations.
    What more to these Cop-bashers want?

    This does not consider that the decision a cop must make in a split second will be reviewed by attorneys, reporters and Ivory Tower intellectuals and “expert” witnesses (paid by plaintiff or district attorneys) who can spend as much time as they want dissecting every conceivable potential error based on information the cop could not possibly have known at the time he was forced to make his quick decisions while adrenalinized and often terrified.

    • Well said, however, as reported by local news org, in the five years from 2011 through 2015, public made 683 excessive force allegations from 362 incidents. The SJPD found two of those allegations true. During that period, SJPD did not initiate any investigations into the use of force based on reports by fellow officers or supervisors. The SJPD must be angels, or just maybe they need better independent oversight.

      • Mr. Concerned,

        How do you know how many use of force investigations were initiated by officers or their supervisors? Do you have some sort of secret access to Internal Affairs investigation files? If so, hire yourself out to an attorney who specializes in suing police departments. They will pay handsomely for that information.

        You want oversight, you say? Let’s have true oversight then. Let the SJPD Internal Affairs Unit and/or Investigations Bureau review every case the IPA puts together as well. Make transparency a two-way street. Maybe after the IPA has to turn over their case files, their evidence (or lack thereof) and explain how this evidence was collected and evaluated, or couldn’t be found, as well as revealing a complainant’s criminal history, mental health records, civil litigation history and prior complaint history, in the same way the IPA wants officer personnel files, let’s see how the IPA’s Office handles transparency from their end.

        The SJPD must be angels, you say? Not angels, just professionals. Sorry if that disappoints you. Maybe complainants need to be better trained and you need to be better informed.

  6. I enjoyed almost all of the well thought out comments… Glad there is a real source of info outside of the Murky mercury “news” bubble… No obvious editorial slant supporting the rotary club — downtown first and always agenda here.. thanks San Jose Inside!

  7. What is the dollar amount of the paid vacation, I mean severance package, Zisser received? Inquiring taxpayers want to know.

    • Whatever his severance, it is nothing compared to the huge amounts of overtime many officers earn annually. Some make as much as twice their base pay in overtime worth $200k. Overtime is out of control. That money could go towards hiring both officers and admin people to get more cops on the street. I hear that they have less than 80 police on patrol on any one shift. What is that about? 1100 officers and 80 cops on the street?? Seems like the PD should be taken a look at rather than the folks in oversight.

  8. Every thug in town is going to cry foul when arrested in hopes of getting out of jail free card meanwhile crime is on a holiday shopping spree in San Jose. When bad cops do bad things they should run the gauntlet of the justice system. I have no love of bad cops, I belive the vast majority of cops are the good guys, even if they do make more money that the president.

    As for Mr Zizzer good luck on your new job at ANTIFA!

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