Council Votes to Change SJPD Policy on Public Intoxication Arrests

The City Council last night agreed to soften San Jose’s police tactics when it comes to arresting people for public intoxication, a move they hope will result in fewer arrests. After a few hours of discussion, the council voted 8-1 to sign off on recommendations put forward by the city-appointed Public Intoxication Task Force.

Among other things, the Task Force, which included Police Chief Rob Davis and members of various community groups, recommended the council look into opening a sobering station and requiring officers to have specific training when it comes to public intoxication arrests.

The Council also accepted the Task Force recommendation that SJPD not charge* people with being drunk in public until the sixth offense in a 12-month span.

Councilman Ash Kalra was the lone dissenter, saying he didn’t feel the recommendations got to the root of some of the problems with San Jose’s police practices. “A lot of it has to do with building the trust with the community and the police department,” Kalra said. “ I for one am eager to get to a place where we can start dealing with some of the issues the community members have, even if they are perceptions.”

Kalra was referring to the community members on the Task Force who a month ago walked out of a meeting and resigned because the city refused to release 4,000-plus public intoxication arrest records for the group to review. The city formed the Task Force after statistics suggested police were targeting Latinos for drunk-in-public arrests.

In San Jose today, more people have been charged with public drunkenness than anywhere else in the state. Community activists who protested the arrests claim that the policy discriminated against Latinos and allowed the police to charge people for what they considered bad attitudes, rather than for drunkenness. The city is currently facing two lawsuits for unlawful arrest.

Some of the community leaders who resigned form the Task Force showed up at the council meeting to express their disappointment with the process. “Seventy percent of stakeholders who you asked to sit at the table decided it wasn’t a valid process, it was a farce,” Skyler Porras, director of the ACLU told the council. “Please reconsider the approach you have taken with the community members and these organizations who represent thousands of your constituents.”

*NOTE: An edit was made at 5pm Wednesday. The incorrect word “prosecute” was replaced with “charge.” 


  1. Includes the recommendation that “SJPD not prosecute people for being drunk in public until the sixth offense in a 12-month span.” Sounds like the punch line to a bad joke. SIXTH offense in a 12-month span? This is public policy??

  2. If someone gets popped six times in a year for public drunkenness, she/he really needs to get into a program!

    In my discussions with Gil Hernandez, both in another folder of this blog and in person, he insists that after walking all over DT SJ (except, notably, San Pedro Square) that there are no longer any Mexicans DT.  He says he didn’t see a single Mexican DT on a recent Saturday night, during his meanderings from The Fairmont, to The Voodoo, on to Tres Gringos & The Loft, an unnamed bar @ First & Santa Clara, Mosaic, & Original Joe’s. Problem solved, there’s no-one to arrest, if you believ Raj and Webby.

    As for Ms. Porass’s complaint—had she and her petulant cohorts stayed of the TF, they could have had input on behalf of their “constituents”.  But instead, they took the LeBron James approach.

  3. Erin,

        Thanks for the mention in the article.  I wanted to clear up the reasoning behind my dissenting vote.  I voted no because I felt the recommendations should have gone to the Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee for further vetting and consideration.  It is a common practice for the Council, upon accepting a staff report, to ask that specific recommendations go to the appropriate committee for Council analysis before a final vote on recommendations.  I was fine with accepting the staff report on the work of the Public Intoxication Taskforce and felt it appropriately addressed the specific questions the Taskforce was charged with answering.  Of the 5 specific recommendations that we were asked to approve, I was fine with 3 of them.  The 2 specific recommendations I felt needed further consideration were the requirement to use a Preliminary Alcohol Screening device on every suspected PC 647(f) case and the use of Coordination Tests. 

        The PAS devices will cost us an enormous amount of money to purchase, possibly into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The data does not have the same value as in a DUI case.  In a DUI, if you are over 0.08 Blood Alcohol Level, you are in violation of Vehicle Code 23152(b), regardless of whether you are effected by the alcohol you have consumed.  There is no per se level of intoxication which tells a police officer that someone is “drunk in public.”  It could be one tool to help an officer reach that conclusion, however, I believe continued officer training could be a more cost effective way of reaching the same result.  In any case, I may have been swayed with further Council analysis at the Committee level with further County and San Jose Police Department input.

        I had less of a concern with the use of coordination tests, however, I still have questions as to whether they are an effective manner for a police officer to determine if someone is 647(f).  For a DUI investigation, even moderate lack of stability is cause for concern.  That is not necessarily the case with a 647(f) investigation.  With further opportunity to have this recommendation vetted in the Public Safety Committee and learning more about how the police department and District Attorney would evaluate the information, I likely would have supported this recommendation.
        The other 3 recommendations should help in improving how we approach drunk in public arrests in our city.  A sobering station can help in ultimately reducing costs for our city, the court system and individuals who will be saved from spending time in jail as well as going to court appearances.  The 6 arrest threshold is commensurate to other jurisdictions with a similar policy and is also parallel to how the court system treats repeat PC 647(f) offenders.  By the 6th arrest, criminal defendants are treated with much more seriousness and the cases typically follow the same route as those who are in drug court dealing with severe drug addiction.  Finally, I believe we all can agree that continued training is the hallmark of any quality law enforcement agency. 

        I did raise concerns about the rift between some segments of the community and the city.  Many of the concerns are deep rooted and have only been exacerbated by recent developments.  Regardless of how difficult it is to talk about issues of racial tension or policing practices, it is still important that we continue to engage in dialogue.  There is no doubt that the far majority of our community appreciates the hard work of the San Jose Police Department.  However, there are many people with concerns.  It is imperative that as a city with a fine police department that we all work to healing any feelings of mistrust and continue a constructive dialogue towards the common goal of always improving our city.  So, my vote and comments in no way intended to appease anyone.  Rather, it was a vote based on policy and comments based on trying to bring our San Jose community together.  However, I do feel that progress has been made and I look forward to continued improvement of our police department and city government.

    Thanks for reading,
    Ash Kalra

  4. The Police Department has nothing to do with prosecuting people.  That decision is made by the District Attorney’s Office.  Police officers arrest individuals that are in violation of laws and transport and book them in accordance with the standards set in place by city policy and/or law.  The city already had a sobering station, but politicians and activists fought to get rid of it.  The LAPD had closer to 20,000 arrests for this same issue, but because their jails have a process for holding then releasing the arrested parties after 5 hours and the DA there doesn’t prosecute until after a certain number of arrests the numbers are misleading.  Raj, Webby, et all have no idea what they are talking about.  The SJPD can not dictate what the jail does with the prisoners after they are booked in.  The new policy change will not alter how the officers deal with the issue in any way.  Stop blaming the police for protecting you and risking their lives.  When a person gets a cavity does Raj blame the dentist?

  5. This article states, “The Council also accepted the Task Force recommendation that SJPD not prosecute people for being drunk in public until the sixth offense in a 12-month span.”

    The SJPD does not prosecute anybody for any crime. That is the job of the district attorney to do in court. If charges are to be filed or dropped is up to the district attorney.

    A pretty major misstatement and inaccuracy but typical of poor journalism and inaccurate statements passing as actual facts.

  6. #5 and #6,

    I attended some of the taske force meetings.  You are not correct regarding it is the district attorneys office that prosecutes the 647f.  Turns out the DA doesn’t even look at the 647f’s unless there was additional charges to file. 

    if it’s just a 647f; the person is given a notice to appear on the spot; basically the same as a speeding ticket.

    So without DA oversite, the officers could decide to send a person straight to court on this issue.

  7. 5 & 6: The term “prosecute” was technically incorrect. It’s been edited to read as follows: “The Council also accepted the Task Force recommendation that SJPD not charge people with being drunk in public until the sixth offense in a 12-month span.”

  8. #7 “647f”,

    You are wrong. This (647f) is a misdemeanor and needs to be prosecuted by the DA’s office. The person may get a citation to appear, but if the DA does not prosecute the case is dropped.

    A speeding ticket is an infraction. It is not “basically the same” as a 647f, which is a misdemeanor. But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

  9. Could our city council have made a dumber decision? I don’t think so. Consider:

    From the onset, this political campaign was fashioned around race and the use of police power, specifically over allegations that Hispanics were being disproportionately arrested because of their race and that police officers were using the drunk in public charge to arrest innocent people for so-called attitude crimes. These are serious charges: if individual police officers are arresting people based on race, or using their powers of arrest against innocent people, they are willfully violating the U.S. Constitution and deserve to be removed from the force.

    Serious charges demand a serious investigation, with a full examination of all evidence. If an eye-catching statistic, such as the Hispanic arrest rate, is offered as evidence, then it deserves to be studied and understood in context. Likewise, accusations of false arrest—easy to make when kept vague, must be investigated to determine the credibility of the charge and, if substantiated, the identity of the officers involved.

    But instead of a serious response we get from the council a political reaction, one with real potential to aggravate the situation. It may seem on the surface a harmless solution to give the drunk and disorderly population five free passes per year, and this solution may please the allergic-to-personal-accountability members of the Hispanic community, but for the police department charged with making the arrests, and the city treasury that indemnifies it, this new approach subjects an officer’s motives, credibility, and decision-making to more questions than ever before. From now on, in the vast majority of drunk in public cases, there will be no review by the district attorney, no trial, and none of that much talked about outside oversight.

    Did it pass the council’s notice that a big part of this issue has involved questions about the motives, credibility, and decision-making of the police officers? Do they not remember how the DA’s disinterest in prosecuting these cases was distorted and offered as proof that cops were making bogus arrests? Why in the world would the city want to put its officers out on a limb with nothing to hold on to but their own arrest reports? Why make it easier for the cop-haters to point their fingers, scream “false arrest,” and sue our city?

    A better solution would be to utilize processing room video cameras to corroborate the officer’s documented observations regarding a person’s intoxicated state and then ask the DA to charge every one of them (just as every speeding driver is charged), putting the matter of correcting behavior right where it belongs, between the judge and the offender. If the court’s want to give ‘em five free ones, a weekend in jail, or maybe a big fine, so be it.

    I sincerely hope that the police officers association seeks an injunction to protect its members from the council’s stupidity, otherwise it can count on one of its own very soon finding himself face-to-face with a new batch of distorted statistics, fresh allegations of false arrest, and a big pile of easy to doubt and all but meaningless arrest reports. Raj and his Chicken Little band are not going to go away, and they’re going to continue targeting cops because, given this city’s irresponsible media and cowardly politicians, they can pitch their nonsense here with impunity.

  10. Mr. Kalra,

    Please tell us how you are planning to appease the anti-police activists.  Why don’t you follow Mr. Oliverio’s example by writing an article for SJI.

  11. Now that the San Jose city council has sent a loud message that there are no penalties for being drunk downtown, let’s watch what happens to the drunk driving arrests/accidents/injuries/deaths statistics for San Jose in the upcoming year.

  12. I want to correct my statement, “Your statement in last night’s Council Meeting, which hard conversations about what is happening in our community need to start taking place is a gross understatement.”

    I meant to say, “Your statement in last night’s Council Meeting, that we need to start having hard conversations about what is happening in our community, is a gross understatement.”

  13. I wonder if drunk in public arrests went up do to the closures of the drunk tank.  In that case I think that the police need to control the amount of people drunk in public.  If you want to decrimalize being drunk in public re-open the drunk tank.

  14. #9:

    PC 647f* is a felony.  PC 647(f) which is what we are actually discussing here, is the misdemeanor public intoxication crime.

    Sorry for being sound like a broken record on this issue.  I have to deal with the confusion almost daily professionally.

    * Once again, PC 647f is prostitution after prior prostitution (PC 647(a)) conviction and positive HIV test.

  15. When an officer is standing outside a nightclub and rowdy patrons who have been drinking walk outside and start fights or are yelling obscenities likely to cause a fight they were often arrested for 647f after they failed to comply with the cops.  Now that this issue has been dragged around by people that don’t understand what they are talking about those same folks will be arrested for 415pc and/or 148pc and have to go to court.  The cops will have to document the event in a lengthy report and testify in court.  This process will cost the city far more money and place a much more serious mark on the arrested person’s record.  Way to make a difference.  Would someone like to address the facts that were grossly misleading about San Jose having a disproportionate number of these types of arrests when compared to other cities?  The fact remains that the Mercury News tried to claim LAPD had just over 200 when in fact they “arrest” over 20,000 people for these types of crimes each year.  The protocol followed by the jail holding and releasing the individuals is simply different….nothing to do with the police department at all!

  16. Council Member Kalra,
    Your statement in last night’s Council Meeting, which hard conversations about what is happening in our community need to start taking place is a gross understatement. Many cultures think that drinking and partying LOUD is acceptable because in their country that is what they do. I remember listening to Richard Hobbs at a public forum at the County. He was saying that Latinos are allowed to drink and drive in Mexico, so we should be “sensitive” to the difference in our cultures, and cut Latinos who drink and drive a break.

    Secondly, I want to know how you can support a six strikes you’re out premise, when people are killed by drunken fools in assaults, or by drunken drivers everyday!

    Raj was right about one thing, the way this issue has been handled by the City has been sad indeed. As a Public Defender, you have forgotten that behind every crime, is a victim. I guess that unless and until you are one, it ceases to be important.

    And finally, I’m sick and tired of hearing people say that they understand that Police have a tough job. What does anyone really know about what the Police see and do everyday?  Did it ever occur to anyone that the Police Officer who just stopped you might have just left a victim, like a child who had been raped and left for dead?  A Police Officer is a person first and a public servant second. Remember that the next time you want to smart mouth a Police Officer who has stopped you for speeding or driving drunk.

  17. The City Council may have voted for a change, but the county runs the jail.  Where is this drunk tank to be located?  Who will fund it?  And seven strikes before you’re out—ridiculous.

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