San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor’s Office Criticizes Lack of Transparency About Use of Force

San Jose’s police watchdog has called for greater transparency about officers’ use of force.

A just-published yearly report by the Independent Police Auditor’s (IPA) Office shows that complaints about excessive force dipped slightly from 2015 to last year, but there’s no way of knowing how often or why police resorted to physical aggression.

The police auditor can only investigate incidents of force if someone files a formal complaint. Grievances about police use of force (108) fell by 10 percent compared  to 2015, according to the annual IPA report. But it’s virtually impossible to put the use-of-force numbers in context, because the San Jose Police Department hasn’t released comprehensive data since 2009.

The annual review comes up for discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting—the last council session until August.

“The IPA does not have the authority to review department use of force when no complaint has been filed,” the report states. “This is the case even when the use of force is serious and results in loss of consciousness, broken bones, hospitalization or death.”

Overall, complaints fell slightly from 303 in 2015 to 292 in 2016. They include allegations of not only force, but of conduct unbecoming of an officer and procedural violations.

For the first time in San Jose history, more complaints were filed with the IPA than with the police department. Grievances lodged with the IPA made up 54 percent of the overall number last year, up from 39 percent in 2015.

The department’s Internal Affairs division sustained 11 percent of all complaints in 2016, nearly twice the rate from the year prior. Most of the validated complaints involved procedural violations and only one involved excessive force.

The IPA raised concerns about the department’s tendency to give officers the benefit of the doubt in use-of-force cases. Out of thousands of use-of-force incidents between 2010 and 2015, not once was a supervisor prompted to open an investigation into whether it was justified.

The report was published by interim IPA Shivaun Nurre and staff, but much of the policy recommendations are noted as coming from former IPA Walter Katz, who left in March—after 15 months on the job—to take a position with the city of Chicago.

Another issue identified by the IPA report is that SJPD treats all force incidents the same, regardless of severity—with exceptions when someone dies in custody or an office fires a service weapon.

“As such, the department has little ability to analyze use of force trends, including data arising from significant use of force incidents,” the report reads.

The report cites Baltimore as a comparison. The city of 600,000 recorded more than 2,800 incidents of force and took the initiative to investigate 10 of them. In San Jose, no complaints about force came from within the department.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 9.47.34 AMIt’s also impossible to know whether certain demographics are being disproportionately affected. Because SJPD hasn’t released its use of force data for eight years, there’s no way to study racial disparities in how force is meted out.

Research from Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office offers some clues, however. The IPA points to a 2016 study that found a racial disparity in people accused of resisting arrest, a charge that tends to follow use of force.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 9.54.05 AM“A disparity does not necessarily mean that there is discrimination by law enforcement or the prosecution,” the IPA report conceded. “It does mean, though, that further exploration is critical to understand why the disparities exist. Being transparent about such an inquiry would go a long way to improve relations with communities of color.”

Another key recommendation involved the way SJPD responds to mentally ill people. Though the department recently began requiring crisis intervention training, it’s unclear how effective that training is at de-escalating confrontations.

Of the five people shot by San Jose police in 2016, one was mentally ill. So far this year, however, every single civilian struck by police gunfire had a psychiatric diagnosis.

“[W]e do not believe that the SJPD has taken any steps to better understand the role of mental illness and the effectiveness of crisis intervention training regarding the use of lethal force,” the report states.

Click here to read the full report.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for June 27, 2017:

  • Councilman Lan Diep wants to name the new BART station in his district the Berryessa/North San José stop. “BART station names are limited to a few words,” he wrote in a memo. “Without a doubt, ‘San Jose’ should be two of those words. Including our city’s name in the station’s name will be an excellent branding opportunity for the city and will alert riders—commuters and tourists alike—that they have arrived in the Capital of the Silicon Valley.”
  • The city will consider revising its zoning rules to allow religious facilities to open their doors to the homeless as temporary shelters.
  • San Jose’s on the market for a new bank, one that’s committed to environmental sustainability and good corporate citizenship.
  • The council will vote on giving themselves raises. Mayor Sam Liccardo’s yearly pay would increase by $12,000 to $137,000 and the council members from $92,000 to $102,000.

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

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Physical aggression? is that the same as physical force or does it just sound more inflammatory?

  2. Baltimore with a little over half the population of SJ has nearly 10 times the complaints about cops using excessive force. That’s not being transparent? Your assuming SJPD is far more violent on what grounds, that people don’t complain enough to keep some xenophobic committee of cop haters busy investigating the PD.
    You might want to compare how many nuts were shot by Baltimore PD as a comparison. How many privileged white folks were shot in each local versus how many innocent BLM types.
    We might also want a study on how many MS13 gang banger’s are turned loose here versus there.
    Inquiring minds just have to know!

  3. “Because SJPD hasn’t released its use of force data for eight years, there’s no way to study racial disparities in how force is meted out.”

    Allow me to offer a clue on who it is that is disproportionately subjected to police use-of-force. If your racial or ethnic identity…

    has a firm hold on the bottom of school achievement tests, or
    kills more cops than any other, or
    commits more armed robberies than any other, or
    goes unmentioned by authorities and the media in crime stories, or
    is favored with undeserved jobs, promotions, and college admittance, or
    requires an army of security when attending a soccer game, or
    sells more drugs than any brick-and-mortar drug store chain, or
    is a ready supplier of manpower to the state’s youth gangs, or
    treats the state prison system as a finishing school for its sons, or
    is so undesirable that it could even cause Cupertino property values to plummet, or
    leads the nation in violent crime, or
    is singularly responsible for the success of the television show, “Cops”…

    then it is sure to be getting an oversize helping of police pummeling.

    Let’s get the next round of sensitivity training underway!

    • “…or goes unmentioned by authorities and the media in crime stories”

      A couple of months ago a couple of “gangs of teenagers” robbed and terrorized passengers on BART traincars in Oakland. Though surveillance cameras covered these attacks authorities chose not to release the video to the public nor did the media dig into it. Why not? Gee, I wonder.

      • > Though surveillance cameras covered these attacks authorities chose not to release the video to the public nor did the media dig into it.


        Knocked it out of the park, Galtus.

  4. What is the budget of the IPA? I doubt very much the relatively few complaints they field justify the millions of dollars spent…

    • Funding will continue no matter how low the complaint count drops because the true purpose of the IPA is to appease the hostile natives (“A missionary in every pot!”) and convey to the cops that doing nothing is the healthy choice (“Just say no to initiative”).

  5. Abolish the office of the IPA.
    This office is an institutionalized waste of taxpayer dollars.
    This office still is a textbook example of gender discrimination. Only women occupy this worthless office.

    David S. Wall

  6. Proactivity is in the toilet and rightfully so. Look around your neighborhoods. How many tents, motorhomes, trash along the gutters do you see, especially in the east side? There is zero going on and the gang bangers and thugs know it too. Wish I had a nickel everytime I heard a teen or twenty something mouthing off to a cop or video recording him. This is the society we have asked for and now we have it. Thanks to the cancerous liberal mindset and the people that work in the IPA office. How often does the IPA go out to Poco Way and talk to gangsters or go out on Capitol Ex on a Friday night and see how many cars are racing up and down the Expressway doing over 100 mph or perhaps spinning donuts and Capitol and Ocala? Never but the people who live out there deal with this along with burglaries, assaults and theft which go unreported by all the local ragtag media. The cops are tasked with keeping a lid on all of this. They go out with their suitcase camera strapped to their chests and watch how they speak to people as not to use any profanity that may melt a snowflake. Meanwhile the criminals who are generally of a specific ethnicity do not have a rule book. Wake the hell up.

    • Wow, I was going to make some of the same points, but could not have said it better. Your final point, wake the hell up, could not be more appropriate. Thank you

  7. As posted before.

    2014-2015 SJPD received 564,528 911 calls and made 100,579 field events (i.e. traffic stops). With all those citizen contacts the IPA and SJPD received 303 complaints. In percentage, that is .00045%. Of those 303 complaints citizens (and criminals) didn’t like the way they were talked to and didn’t think they should have been arrested at all.
    In 2015 the IPA budget for six people was $1,249,223.
    The IPA makes at least $178,000 a year.
    The IPA went to 172 IPA presentation, community events, meet and greets
    Once Cordell left the IPA position IPA complaints dropped from 51% to 39%
    SJPD made 55,000 less field events (i.e. car stops) then 2010-2011 year.

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