Amid fierce public backlash over its heavy-handed reaction to recent protests, SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia issued a memo today saying he would voluntarily enact a number of policy changes to show the department’s commitment to “continuous improvement.”
In the face of mounting calls for San Jose to slash police funding, however, what he proposes seems mostly symbolic or marginal.
The chief’s letter includes his latest promise to ramp up community outreach (something notably lacking ahead of recent protests) and to bring SJPD in line with state law when it comes to officers alerting superiors about a colleague’s misconduct. And though just about half the City Council already proposed a ban on rubber bullets, Garcia says he wants to tighten up standards for so-called less-lethal weapons.
Then there’s the timing of the whole thing, which makes it come off as reactive.
Chief Garcia issued the memo just a day ahead of a council hearing where he’s been asked to justify his department’s aggressively response to the first few days of local demonstrations against George Floyd’s killing and systemic injustice.
Statement from Chief Garcia following the events of the past week and initial next steps pic.twitter.com/eEXL4nbJ5h
— San Jose Police Dept (@SanJosePD) June 8, 2020
In the two-page communique, the chief says that from now on, he will require officers who witness a colleague use excessive force to report what they saw to a supervisor. It’s a standard set by SB 230, which California lawmakers passed last year and which becomes mandatory statewide in January 2021.
By adopting the standard immediately, Garcia argues, SJPD could avoid what happened in Minneapolis, where multiple cops watched Officer Derek Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck until his dying breath eight minutes later. “I am issuing a department-wide order with this language in it,” the chief explained, “and will speak with every officer in my command to reinforce the moral imperative of following this law.”
Though he already banned chokeholds years ago, Garcia says he’ll revise the proscription to expressly state that it applies to knee-on-neck contact as well.
The memo goes on to say that SJPD will put officers through additional training on facilitating peaceful protests and media access (that last pledge comes in response to officers detaining two reporters on the first day of a blunderous citywide curfew).
One of the final prescriptions relates to SJPD’s use of riot guns, which fire off rubber baton rounds (colloquially known as rubber bullets) and left numerous protesters bloodied and battered since the Floyd demonstrations kicked off on May 29.
The Garcia memo states: “Effective immediately in crowd control situations, when addressing agitators within a crowd, projectile impact weapons will only be used in situations where a person is actively attacking an officer or another person or when an armed agitator poses a threat to officers or other peaceful protesters.”
That would change existing policy almost imperceptibly.
Basically, it would update Section L 2629.5 in the SJPD duty manual to take away officers’ ability to use riot guns in response to property damage, and only allow them if there’s a threat to someone’s personal safety.
The chief ends his memo by pledging to prevent officers fired for misconduct from being hired elsewhere, and by affirming his own willingness to do better.
“Our dedication to continuous improvement did not start today and it will be ongoing,” he wrote. “We have never been afraid of criticism or shied away from better ways of doing our difficult job. We will continue to be thoughtful in our approach and move swiftly where needed. This department’s love for our community is unwavering and will be the foundation from which we build a bridge through these difficult times.”