San Jose city officials announced the four final candidates for police chief on Monday, raising questions from at least one influential community leader about the fast pace in hiring—and whether local groups are being heard.
“I have a real fear that this was just a Howdy Doody show, that nothing’s going to change,” said San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Rev. Jethroe Moore, who participated in a panel last week to interview the initial selection of candidates.
Larry Scirotto, a recently retired police chief of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was the only external candidate to make it to the final round. The remaining finalists include Assistant Chief Anthony Mata, Deputy Chief Heather Randol and interim Chief David Tindall—all from the San Jose Police Department.
The city convened panels over the course of two days last week to interview the first round of seven candidates. More than 50 participants drawn from multiple community groups, including Sacred Heart Community Service, SOMOS Mayfair, Black Kitchen Cabinet and La Raza Roundtable were asked to weigh in via a ranked choice voting system. Each selected their first, second and third choices for police chief.
While Moore cast his votes with everyone else on the panel, he said the speed the city is moving in the hiring process does not fill him with confidence that the community’s preferences are being weighed heavily.
City officials declined to say how community groups voted on the candidates last week, citing California law requiring confidentiality in personnel matters. In addition, those who participated in last week’s panels were required to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing them from revealing their participation to the press.
Moore decided to speak up anyway, he said, because of what he views as a lack of transparency in the process, participants and vote tallies. In his view, that makes the city’s community outreach amount to little more than “trickery,” he said.
“If we’re not allowed to see the rankings, you gave us a false idea of hope,” Moore said. “It just shows that we have a dishonest system… This is what we talk about when we talk about structural or systemic racism.”
Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, however, said in an interview Monday he thinks the process has been transparent enough, though he agreed the city could share how community members’ opinions will weigh in the decision.
But for the most part, those at San Jose City Hall who spoke to San Jose Inside say they’ve been happy with the candidates in line for consideration. Those city officials are the one who will ultimately decide who will get the top job at SJPD.
Though City Manager David Sykes will recommend who should get the job, council members will cast the final “yes” or “no” vote on that recommendation.
Jones estimates, however, that the council is unlikely to vote against Sykes’ pick.
Downtown Councilman Raul Peralez, a reserve San Jose PD officer, said the candidates—particularly those from outside of the department—expressed some important new ideas during the interview process.
“There’s a mentality in San Jose that we’re sort of ahead of the curve on so many things, but at the same time, there’s a lot of things we may not be progressive on,” he said.
Many of those ideas were hashed out on Valentine’s Day, when all of the candidates hopped online for a lengthy public discussion about residents’ concerns. The forum came after two candidates—including Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo—withdrew their applications for the position.
The hourslong hearing drew more than 500 questions from residents.
“We are looking for someone who is open-minded and ready to engage in a dialogue that challenges conventional wisdom,” Sykes said.
The focus of the forum returned often to racial equity and systemic racism in policing.
According to California’s police scorecard, San Jose police arrest, injure and kill Black and Latino residents at significantly higher rates relative to their share of the population. Black people constitute 12 percent of SJPD arrests while being only about 4 percent of the population. Latinos constitute 76 percent of people injured or killed by police, despite making up only 33 percent of the population.
Those statistics are under particular scrutiny following a summer of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer.
During one of those protests last year, San Jose police shot one of the department’s anti-bias trainers, Derrick Sanderlin, with a rubber bullet in the groin. Sanderlin, who is Black, filed a lawsuit against the city along with six other plaintiffs alleging that the department’s police training enabled indiscriminate brutality against protestors.
Though the candidates differed in some areas, each said they agreed with community calls to lean more heavily on community-based groups for certain situations, and that the SJPD—along with other police departments around the country—needed to make strides in regaining some residents’ trust.
Tindall, who was born in Scotland, acknowledged that it may be awkward for him to assert himself as the best person to address racism at SJPD. He said the racist history of police departments in the U.S. has built reasonable distrust of police among people of color. “We have a role in history,” he said during the livestreamed forum. “We can’t garner trust without first admitting to prior mistakes.”
He said he wants police to divert more calls to community organizations, which he said could lower racial disparities and improve response times for more serious crimes.
“Good intentions can create unintended results,” Tindall told meeting attendees. “An arrest or citation is not a solution to every single problem we have.”
Mata agreed the city must acknowledge the racism in society as well as in policing. If chosen to be the next chief, he’d expand on the race and equity training currently offered in the department, which he said would help reduce bias.
“It creates division and [an] us-versus-them mentality,” Mata said during the forum earlier this month. “We must have these candid conversations and listen.”
When it comes to crimes such as theft and vandalism, Randol—who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology—said data show such misdeeds are often committed by a handful of “repeat offenders,” and that zeroing in on the causes and the motivation of those individuals can help prevent future transgression.
“We know that one person is usually responsible for a whole bunch of crime,” she said during the public forum last week. “Root causes of crime can be addressed … it’s important that we don’t ignore those things.”
Roughly 1,150 police officers serve the Bay Area’s largest city—home to a population of more than 1 million residents—and violent crimes take priority over property offenses. That’s part of why Randol said some types of quality-of-life crimes could be better handled by community groups.
Vice Mayor Jones told San Jose Inside that Scirotto stands out to him because he provided detailed answers during the public forum on Valentine’s Day.
“[Scirotto] had a lot of detailed data to back up his comments and initiatives,” Jones said. “That's probably a big reason why he was one of the external candidates.”
Indeed, Scirotto, the only remaining candidate from outside of the SJPD, referenced studies on how police spend 35 percent of their time responding to less-urgent crimes, including traffic violations and burglar alarms. He said his department in Pittsburgh took those calls out of police response and created a “Quality of Life patrol” directed in part by neighborhood groups. “It’s very different from me telling [residents] what should be their priority,” Scirotto said. “We involved them from the beginning.”