The San Jose Police Officers’ Association (POA) is finally extending an olive branch to the office of the independent police auditor (IPA) by endorsing a plan to expand its authority.
On its face, the offer marks a dramatic change in tone compared to last year, when the cop union launched an aggressive, and ultimately successful, campaign to remove then-IPA Aaron Zisser from his shortly held post. This month, the POA is close to closing a deal with the city that would expand the review powers of the IPA.
The proposal would authorize the independent cop monitor to review records such as police reports and body cam footage of officer-involved shootings and uses of force.
New legislation, however, may render the deal feckless.
For one thing, part of the proposal is redundant since California lawmakers in 2018 passed SB 1421 and AB 748, which already require police departments to disclose police disciplinary records and footage from body cameras.
“We proposed that before any legislation was coming so it absolutely would have expanded to the role of the IPA,” POA spokesman Tom Saggau explains. “Those were initiatives back when Aaron Zisser was still around. What we said was that we would not agree to that if he was still in the IPA because we had no trust for him.”
When Zisser took office, community activists had been lobbying for expanded IPA powers and hoped to put their proposal on the 2018 fall ballot. But the POA waged an all-out affront on the police watchdog, which reached a breaking point when Zisser included incomplete statistics about police use-of-force in his inaugural year-end report. For the POA, a correction wouldn’t suffice: they demanded nothing less than a resignation.
By the time the dust settled, Zisser was gone, his No. 2 Shivaun Nurre had taken his place and time had run out for a 2018 ballot measure.
Just about a year later, an offer by the POA to make up for the lost ballot initiative by cobbling together a negotiated alternative has led to the deal now on the table. And Nurre is not impressed. “It’s pretty much we [the POA] are agreeing to give you something that you already have access to under legislation,” she says.
Under the proposed compromise, for example, the IPA would get access to SJPD’s aggregated use-of-force statistics. But that’s not much to write home about.
“Because it’s an aggregate, I won’t be able to look at body-worn camera, the actual report or the medical,” Nurre explains.
Currently, the police auditor can only access SJPD records when a civilian files a complaint about an incident. By way of another example, Nurre says that if she wanted to examine K-9 bite cases, she would only be able to access those records if and when someone filed a complaint about the incident.
Under this POA proposal, SJPD would provide the IPA with aggregated data from all cases where K-9s are deployed and a civilian gets hurt. Nurre’s office would have access to data about the demographics of the complainant and the accused. “But I don't think I will be able to see the actual report itself,” Nurre says. “There’s a lot of limits.”
Differences notwithstanding, the City Council will decide whether to sign the pact in a closed-door meeting by next month, according to San Jose Director of Employee Relations Jennifer Schembri.
While the cop union limits the IPA’s access to use-of-force data that is aggregated, the city wants more comprehensive and detailed information still. And while personal information in police reports requested from SB 1421 are redacted, the city proposes to expand IPA’s access to non-redacted reports.
Though the deal may grant the IPA more authority, it’s at best a marginal win for advocates of stronger, more public police accountability. And while the POA signals a willingness to cooperate with Nurre, it seems that its ultimate goal remains what it was under Zisser: to keep the office of the independent police auditor on a short leash.