Hiring Process for the Next San Jose Police Chief Will Set the Tone

Hiring Process for the Next San Jose Police Chief Will Set the Tone

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The retirement of San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis offers a unique opportunity for a new dynamic in police-community relations. This newspaper has appropriately stated, "Now community groups that have been critical need to come to the table to help guide the search for San Jose's next chief." As critics of the current chief, we fully expect to be an active and positive voice in this important process.

The past few years in particular have been riddled with conflicts regarding San Jose's policing practices.

First, there were the bloated and racially disproportionate arrest numbers for public intoxication and resisting arrest reported in this paper in 2008. Then, in May 2009, there was the shooting death of Daniel Pham in his own home. Shortly after, the video of baton strikes on Phuong Ho, an unarmed San Jose State student, aired globally through YouTube.

It was the compounding nature of these events that set off a firestorm among some communities in San Jose that still burns today.

While the high-profile cases and alarming statistics have damaged the public's trust in the police, it is the reaction by the department's leadership that's most telling.

In response to the reports that Latinos were being arrested for public intoxication at a disproportionate clip, Davis contended that it was the socioeconomic realities of Latinos that were responsible, rather than even considering the possibility that there could be a problem i n police practices. But after a year of public outcry and spotlights on policing methods, arrest rates went down by 50 percent.

In another example, when the City Council was following the public's call for more transparency in October 2009 — a moment when trust could have been rebuilt — Davis campaigned against the sunshine law, keeping the veil of secrecy around police records.

These entrenched positions of consistently denying the possible fallibility of the police, coupled with the department's insurmountable wall of silence, have left us as a city at a tense standstill. We need less public relations from our police chief and more real community building.

This is why new leadership at the police department has enormous potential to move San Jose into the 21st century of community policing.

It is critical that the hiring process of the next chief be inclusive, a shared responsibility. The criteria and the selection process can set the tone for police-community relations for years to come. The public, particularly communities who have felt distrustful of police practices, need to feel ownership in the selection of the new chief. Failing to take advantage of this opportunity will continue the unhealthy dynamic that exists today between communities of color and the police leadership.

The Coalition for Justice and Accountability, a diverse group of community service and advocacy organizations that formed over the past year, is ready to meet the challenge. We will actively solicit opinions from the public on what type of police chief San Jose needs. We are certain that city officials recognize the significance of this moment and will invite the community to be part of the process.

Already, though, there have been missteps. The city manager has outlined a process that includes hiring a search firm, identifying what information will be kept confidential and calling for a limited framework of community input — without consulting stakeholders. The San Jose City Council must make sure the process is as thorough and comprehensive as possible and not put on a fast track at the expense of public participation.

Raj Jayadev is executive director of Silicon Valley De-Bug. Pete Carrillo is a former member of San Jose's Public Intoxication Task Force. Both are members of the Coalition for Justice and Accountability.

This commentary originally was published in the San Jose Mercury News on August 13, 2010.