Mayor Sam Liccardo presented a nine-point proposal for reforming the San Jose Police Department Wednesday, striving to initiate tangible changes to how the city’s more than a million residents are policed in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
The mayor’s vision includes unsealing arbitration files that allow fired officers to keep their badges, expanding the authority of the Office of the Independent Auditor to look into allegations of excessive use of force and racial discrimination, banning the use of rubber bullets in crowds and providing public officer data dashboards that disclose information on police stops and detentions.
Additionally, Liccardo wants to shift more power to the mayor to hire, fire and direct Police Chief Eddie Garcia. Rather than a response to Garcia’s actions during the uprising, Liccardo said it’s more about increasing the ability of the city’s elected leader to act without a City Council vote.
While not speaking for the city’s top cop, Liccardo said Garcia is interested in continuing to explore these plans. Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officer Association, agreed.
“We’re pleased that the mayor is joining us in looking at everything that can be looked at to try and improve police community relations. We look at his list as a good place to dialogue on, as well as some of the other things we’ve heard from community members. We’re coming into all of these things with an open mind.”
The slew of reforms come as Liccardo unveiled a proposed 2020 ballot measure to convert San Jose to a strong mayor government system, allowing him more control and authority over department heads and veto powers.
Referencing decisions like ending curfews or ordering records to be released to the public, Liccardo said:
“They expect their mayor to be able to respond.”
“That kind of accountability is what our residents routinely expect and demand, and the authority does not align without accountability in this city because of the structure of this City Charter.”
This announcement follows weeks of protests and outcry against continued police killings of unarmed citizens, which disproportionately involve people of color. Many across the country have pressed for a purge of systemic racism within city institutions, including reallocating money away from police forces, or abolishing departments altogether
But rather than answering public calls for defunding, Liccardo stuck to his commitment to reform, outlining plans to increase police accountability over the next weeks and months.
Pointing to San Jose’s comparatively small force, Liccardo said:
“The voice of defunding I hear very clearly, but it doesn’t compel us simply to go slash the budget, lay off a couple hundred cops and try to figure out how it is we’re going to keep people safe in the meantime.”
Liccardo’s plan comes one week after the City Council unanimously voted to maintain the force’s $449 million budget, but dedicate $1.5 million to a new office to address racial inequities, instead of carving out funding for cooperation between law enforcement and community organizations to handle nonviolent police calls.
Defending that decision, Liccardo said a public audit will “lift the hood” for residents to understand where all of those dollars go and why.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith supported the idea of incorporating social workers into law enforcement responses during the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday — conceding that her deputies don’t have the same necessary mental and behavioral health training as other county staff.
Liccardo said the city has been in talks with the county for years about this type of collaboration between social workers and law enforcement, but said the idea never took off due to a lack of interest, labor shortages and concerns of safety.
“We need to find a way to do this in a way which everyone can be safe. I suspect it will require some hybrid type model in which we have mental health workers able to respond, perhaps, with the help of a police officer, where there is concern about weapons or some evidence of prior violence.”
This story was originally published in San Jose Spotlight.