“I apologize.” That’s what San Jose’s chief of police said Friday after the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed the department playing a numbers game with crime statistics, misleading the public about a decline in gang-related homicides.
No one from the San Jose Police Department would go on camera to talk about the inaccurate comparison of gang statistics… until now. Friday, in a very candid interview, acting San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel talked openly about the mistakes made, the changes to come and a pledge to bring transparency to the department.
“I apologize to our citizens,” Esquivel said. “I apologize to our politicians. We don’t want to hide.”
He is apologizing for telling the public that gang-related homicides in San Jose are down more than 40 percent compared to last year, when in reality, the department doesn’t know that because it was comparing apples to oranges.
The Investigative Unit’s report sparked outrage from city and county leaders.
“Someone should have said these numbers don’t reflect a year-over-year drop in gang crime, and that didn’t happen, and that’s what’s troubling,” Councilman Ash Kalra said.
“They shouldn’t have anything to hide,” Supervisor Dave Cortese said. “And if they do, then it’s a full-blown scandal, and that’s what we are all afraid of.”
Earlier this month, The Investigative Unit exposed that the police department used new, stricter criteria to classify gang-related murders then compared those numbers to last year’s, which didn’t have that stricter definition, revealing a dramatic drop.
“You’re right, you’re right, Jenna,” Esquivel said. “It is apples to oranges, it is. And it’s not a true or fair comparison.”
The police department did not tell the public until after The Investigative Unit started asking questions.
“In hindsight, we wouldn’t make that comparison, believe me,” Esquivel said. “It wasn’t messaged properly on our part, and I take responsibility for that… We could have done a better job externally to the public, and the media, and that’s what we are trying to fix.”
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit wanted to know: If the department used the same criteria this year as it did last year to classify gang-related cases, would gang murders actually be down?
“I’m not really sure, because it is somewhat subjective,” Esquivel said. “But I would imagine-- I would tend to think that number of eight of the last reporting, that those numbers would probably be a couple higher.”
The department previously said — for weeks — that gang crime in San Jose is down, crediting gang-suppression efforts.
City leaders touted that success at town hall meetings, until Thursday night, when there was no mention of those impressive stats.
The chief says he will not use that comparison again. He says addressing gang violence is a priority, and the public deserves accurate and fair information.
“It’s important for me to be transparent and report correctly,” Esquivel said. “I can guarantee you that mistake is not gonna happen again.”
The police department says it’s in the process of removing the gang-related murder statistics from its website.
Meanwhile, the Rules and Open Government committee will decide next week whether the issue will go before city council.
Do you have a tip for the Investigative Unit? Email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com