A police oversight attorney who has spent most of his career as a watchdog for Los Angeles County law enforcement will become San Jose’s next Independent Police Auditor.
Walter Katz, 49, takes over as the city’s fifth police auditor Jan. 5, the city announced Tuesday. The former public defender will replace LaDoris Cordell, who stepped down this past summer after five years at the post.
— Ash Kalra (@Ash_Kalra) November 3, 2015
“I’m honored and privileged to be appointed as San Jose's next Independent Police Auditor,” Katz said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the diverse community that this office serves and making it more accessible to all San Jose residents.”
Katz, who earned a law degree from McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific, spent 15 years as an attorney for L.A. County’s alternative public defender’s office and four years monitoring law enforcement for its Office of Independent Review.
For the past year-and-a-half, he has kept an eye on the L.A. Sheriff’s Department and played a key role in improving the agency’s policies on use of force as second in command of the county Office of the Inspector General.
— Robert Salonga (@robertsalonga) November 3, 2015
“Walter is a remarkable individual with an impressive record in law enforcement oversight,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement. “The council, community interview panelists and I were extremely impressed by his experience with complex use of force issues and his desire to innovate. Walter is going to be a tremendous asset to the city and San Jose residents”
As independent police auditor in San Jose, Katz will review complaints against the San Jose Police Department, to make sure the investigations are thorough and objective. He will make recommendations on how to improve policy and educate the public about the role of civilian oversight.
San Jose’s police auditor—a role the city created in 1993—can recommend but not enforce policy changes. Despite that limitation, Cordell managed to convince the SJPD to adopt more progressive policies, such as collecting more detailed data on traffic stops to analyze racial bias and equipping officers with body cameras.
Paul Kelly, head of San Jose's Police Officers' Association, said police want to improve accountability and plan to work collaboratively with their new watchdog.
"We are always willing to work on improving transparency and building upon the great relationship we have with the residents of San Jose," Kelly said. "[We] look forward to a fair and honest collaboration with newly appointed IPA Walter Katz on programs and initiatives that keep police officers and the public safe."
Like his predecessor, Katz has written and spoken extensively about improving trust between law enforcement and the community by way of transparency and accountability. In a recent column for the Harvard Law Review Forum, Katz wrote about the need for independent agencies to investigate police-related deaths and rebuild the public’s trust, particularly for communities of color.
“Where the public has trust, it will sanction law enforcement with legitimacy; and when it does so, it is signaling that the public’s moral values of right and wrong are aligned with those of its police agencies,” he wrote in the April op-ed. “Conversely, legitimacy crumbles when civilians are treated unfairly and the public is left with the conclusion that police agencies are not accountable.”
In a New York Times column that same month, Katz called for reforms to combat the disproportionate impact of police violence on African Americans.
“There is a phenomenon in the United States which most of the public is unwilling or unable to fully acknowledge,” he wrote. “The killings by police of unarmed black men and boys is akin to climate change—for many, seemingly no evidence will convince them that there is a relationship between race and police violence.”
Law enforcement agencies, he continued, must collect more data on use of force, emphasize de-escalation tactics, address implicit bias through training and thoroughly investigate police-involved killings.
— Walter Katz (@katz_oversight) November 4, 2015