San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has rejected calls by protesters to “defund police,” saying the city should instead double down on reform.
“We have the most thinly staffed police department in any major city in the United States, and we need to ask ourselves whether defunding is going to help those communities that have been victimized by systemic racism in this city and this country,” he said in an interview Sunday. “And I think the answer is no.”
The mayor’s concerns seem to stem from a misinterpretation about the push to defund, however. Proponents of the movement, by and large, aren’t trying to zero out police budgets but to reallocate some of that spending to other resources.
Here’s how Lynda Garcia, policing campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, put it to Rolling Stone in a recent interview: “A lot of what we advocate for is investment in community services—education, medical access … You can call it ‘defunding,’ but it’s just about directing or balancing the budget in a different way.”
Liccardo’s stance also diverges from those of his counterparts in a number of major cities, including Minneapolis, where police are accused of murdering George Floyd. On Sunday, news broke of a veto-proof City Council majority wanting to divert funding from traditional law enforcement to community services.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed slashing up to $150 million off the police budget and steering it to causes that support black and Latino residents.
Closer to home, San Francisco Mayor London Breed—no bleeding-heart reformer—responded to the civil unrest over excessively forceful, hyper-militarized police by proposing a similar plan. Together with Supervisor Shamann Walton, a fellow African American on the Board of Supervisors, she suggested pulling money from SFPD to spend on programs that uplift black residents.
Garcetti and Breed became the first elected officials in California to release official statements about their plans to defund law enforcement in their cities.
In a statement Sunday, Breed said: “Reforms to any single system, such as the criminal justice system or the police department, must go hand-in-hand with closing the gaps and ending the disparities that we know exist. By bringing the community into the process of making these decisions, we can ensure that those who have been voiceless in the past now have a seat at the table as we make decisions that will impact their community.”
In San Jose, Mayor Liccardo—a former prosecutor—cited U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that communities of color are disproportionately victimized by serious and violent crimes. Thus, he argued, any cuts to SJPD would harm the same people that proponents of defunding want to protect.
“Communities of color are disproportionately victimized by serious crime, and we see that statistically and that is a result of what might be characterized as economic apartheid that has existed in our nation and has made cities highly segregated racially,” he explained in a conversation with San Jose Inside. “Which means that all too often, we see in low income communities too many of our residents disproportionately victimized by violent crime and [who] don’t have the resources, like white wealthy neighborhoods do, to go hire private security. And if you’re a small businesses owner who happens to be an immigrant—which is, by the way, the overall majority of our small businesses owners are immigrants—and if you’re in the inner city, you have to deal with robberies, [but] the ‘iStore’ at the mall can get a private security patrol.”
Last week, the mayor called for a ban on firing rubber bullets into crowds, something that left multiple protesters seriously injured—maiming some and leaving others bloodied and bruised. (Side note: it wasn’t until a week after the protests started that Liccardo says he heard about what happened to Derrick Sanderlin, who was potentially sterilized by a rubber round on May 29. The mayor has yet to publicly acknowledge that anyone else was harmed by SJPD’s crowd-control tactics).
Liccardo also called to expand the powers of the San Jose Independent Police Auditor (IPA), albeit on the SJPOA’s terms. When activists sought to advance their own measure in 2018, the effort was sidelined by the POA turning on then-IPA Aaron Zisser, who resigned under pressure after less than a year on the job when it was clear that the mayor and council were unwilling to stand up to the police union.
In the two years since, the POA and city negotiated a side-letter, finalized last week, that agrees to some marginal expansions of IPA authority. Under the compromise, which still requires a vote by the public, the IPA would gain more access to SJPD’s use-of-force policies and get to audit complaints initiated from within the police department.
Finally, Liccardo said he wants greater accountability for officer misconduct, “so bad cops can be fired faster.” That said, the mayor commended SJPD’s progress under Chief Eddie Garcia in virtually eliminating disparity between use-of-force rates and arrest rates involving people of color. That progress needs to go farther, Liccardo added, saying San Jose still needs to revise union contracts and laws that “create obstacles to ensuring officer accountability—particularly the firing of bad cops.”
Liccardo credited the following reforms for SJPD’s progress so far:
- Collecting and publishing data on every pat-down, stop, arrest or force incident by race
- Hiring external experts to analyze data and issue recommendations
- Spending millions of dollars on body cameras and video data storage
- Imposing mandatory training on de-escalation and implicit bias
- Using data analysis to detect misconduct-prone officers earlier
- Enhanced psychological testing and screening for police academies
- Increased investment in recruiting that reflect the diversity of the city
All of those initiatives require funding, Liccardo noted, particularly to backfill thousands of hours in which officers are in training instead of out on patrol. “Defunding police undermines progress on these and other tools to improve accountability, training and recruiting,” the mayor said.
Proponents of defunding police should “be realistic” about how cuts will impact public safety, the mayor went on to say. “Any police chief or city council will be loath to cut the lifeline 9-1-1 emergency response that patrol officers provide to communities in moments of distress,” Liccardo said. “Instead, they’ll wring savings from programs that work proactively to build stronger communities in troubled neighborhoods, such as crime prevention, Police Activities League and community outreach.”
The San Jose Police Department has a roughly $450 million budget, the vast majority of which (about $442 million) covers personnel costs. SJPD’s budget allocation comprises about a third of the city’s general fund.
Councilman Lan Diep—who’s proved to be one of the most outspoken of his colleagues on local policing this past week—prompted a lively conversation on Twitter over the weekend about what defunding law enforcement would look like in San Jose.
Some people responded to the D4 rep by questioning whether PD really needs to spend as much on overtime. Others pointed out that audits in past years have recommended additional investment in civilianized personnel. Nikita Sinha, head of pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Jose, suggested cutting traffic enforcement.
One activist suggested cutting the $1.4 million a year spent on cannabis enforcement and redirecting some $5 million allocated on truancy and school safety to “improving schools.” And $10.8 million on special operations? “No,” @EcoSocYogi wrote in a Twitter post Sunday. “Do teachers have a $100k fund for teacher gifts? Cops do. Pay teachers, fire cops. Start with officer [Jared] Yuen.”
Kyle Martin contributed to this report.