San Jose Mayor Liccardo announces extensive plan to reform police

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo unveiled his plan to reform the San Jose Police Department during a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon. 

The mayor laid out a nine-point proposal that aims to help determine whether the department is disproportionately applying force to communities of color and how this application of force is relative to arrest rates. Part of the push for change nationally and locally was the in-custody death of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis. As the mayor described his plan Wednesday, he emphatically stated multiple times that he is for reforming the police, not defunding them. 

"The question of defunding is settled for this year," said Liccardo, referring to his recent budget approval. "We have the most thinly staffed police of any major city in the country. Only about half of our calls are we able to get to within six minutes."

The department has been criticized for the actions of some officers during a May 29th demonstration in downtown San Jose. Multiple bystanders complain they were roughed up or assaulted as officers tried to maintain control of the chaotic situation.

Under the new plan, the mayor intends to make changes to the arbitration process that's allowed hundreds of police officers to return to work after being fired for misconduct. Liccardo also wants allegations of excessive force and racial discrimination to be investigated by the Office of the Independent Auditor, ditching the internal affairs model. Additionally, the plan includes providing scholarships for low-income youth in exchange for joining the force to better build a department that reflects the city's diverse community.

Both watchdogs and critics say the mayor is taking steps in the right direction to reform the department. "We're very interested in sitting down and having a conversation in finding ways to help our officers do the very best job they can when they're out there serving their communities," said Sean Pritchard, vice president of the San Jose Police Officers Association. 


The use of rubber bullets is still allowed in crowded situations, like protests, under the SJPD duty manual. Liccardo said he will move forward with a broader band in August. The mayor of San Jose is prohibited from unilaterally directing the police chief, according to Liccardo, who said this undermines expectations of accountability that residents expect. 

"We are one of the few major cities in the country that still has this anachronistic system, where the city manager essentially manages the city and the mayor is merely one of 11 votes on the council," Liccardo said, noting this reform will be brought to voters in November. "It needs to change because the expectations for accountability in the public is so much greater in a large city. They expect their mayor to respond."

This year, about $446 million out San Jose's $4.1 billion budget will be spent on policing. Liccardo says there should be an audit of police expenditures so the public can see if they're spending effectively. He also wants to create an "early warning system" for young officers demonstrating concerning conduct and have independent audits of body-worn camera video. Liccardo said that public trust is ultimately on the line.

"I don't pretend that any amount of reform is going to massage the concerns of those who simply want us to disband the police department and defund it. I get it. We're not going to agree on everything," he said. 

The calls for defunding police are rooted in something true, Liccardo said, which includes taking a hard look at police departments and identifying ways to better respond. He said he hears the voice of defunding very clearly, but it doesn't compel him to go slash the budget, layoff cops and then think of how to keep the community safe.

"What we're hearing overwhelmingly from the community -- by that I mean at neighborhood meetings, particularly those with heavy crime -- our residents are telling us they want more police, not less. To be sure, we also hear clearly the calls for reform," Liccardo said.