SJPD Auditor Disagrees With "Curb Sitting" Policy Change

By Jeff Burbank
|  Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013  |  Updated 8:16 AM PDT
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Under acting chief Larry Esquivel, the San Jose Police Department has suspended a policy that orders officers to document all the stops the make -- arrest or not -- including the person's race and whether they are told to sit on a curb. Monte Francis reports.

Under acting chief Larry Esquivel, the San Jose Police Department has suspended a policy that orders officers to document all the stops the make -- arrest or not -- including the person's race and whether they are told to sit on a curb. Monte Francis reports.

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Officers disciplined for misconduct by the San Jose Police  Department in 2012 fell to the lowest level in almost two decades while one  in five officers were named in conduct complaints, according to an independent audit released on Monday.

Also, the controversial policy of "curb sitting" appears to be back in practice, much to the independent auditor's dismay.

And conduct complaints lodged against San Jose police last year were  highest among the most experienced officers with 38 percent named in them  having 16 or more years of service, the Office of the Independent Police  Auditor reported.

These findings were part of the auditor's 2012 IPA Year End Report,  a summary of the agency's annual review of closed investigations of alleged  police misconduct by San Jose police's Internal Affairs unit.

Retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris H.  Cordell, who leads the IPA, said she was amazed by the audit's finding that  IA complaints fell 7 percent despite early retirements, layoffs and other  turmoil the police department suffered in 2012. 

The IPA's review also found that only 11 San Jose police officers  were disciplined for misconduct by the department in 2012, a big reduction  from the 42 officers disciplined in 2011 and the lowest since the IPA was  formed 19 years ago.

"This report is good news," Cordell said. "It was a tumultuous  year. I'm surprised and pleasantly so."

Cordell said she was surprised as well that so many of the IA  complaints were about veterans when usually complaints involve mostly  less-experienced officers.

"You can't say it's a trend, it may be an anomaly," she said.

Cordell said her top recommendation in the report is for San Jose  police to revive a policy documenting all people detained or searched but not  arrested, including those made to wait curbside after traffic stops, Cordell  said. That practice is called "curb sitting," and often humiliates people who are told to sit on the curb if they are pulled over by police, but not arrested.

The policy, started by then-police Chief Chris Moore in 2012,  required officers to enter into a computer the names, ethnicities and other  information of each person detained, a policy Acting Chief Larry Esquivel  stopped in January, Cordell said.

"The chief has suspended it," Cordell said. "I do hope it gets reenacted."

Complaints against San Jose police officers reviewed in the IPA  concerned allegations about arrests and detentions, biased policing, lack of  courtesy, conduct unbecoming an officer, use of force, neglect of duty, not  following police policies and searches and seizures.

The IPA audited 329 of 411 IA cases completed in 2012, 248 of  which involved alleged misconduct by police, 26 about not following police  policies, 49 not related to misconduct and six about minor matters such lack  of communication by supervisors.

The IPA agreed with the IA's conclusions in 84 percent of the  cases and disagreed or had "concerns about" the other 16 percent, Cordell  said.

Of the policy-related complaints, 38 percent centered on lack of  response to calls for service or follow up from officers on information and  leads provided by complainants, the IPA reported.

The complaints mentioned the names of 216 San Jose police  officers, amounting to 20 percent of all officers in the department, the  audit reported.

In those conduct complaints, 177 of the allegations were filed  against the officers on the force for 16 years or more, 42 percent over  policy concerns and 21 percent for not being courteous.

Use of force was the biggest complaint among allegations against  officers with seven to 10 years of experience -- 28 percent of allegations --  and those with five to six years -- 35 percent.

The 329 cases that IPA reviewed last year contained 625  allegations against San Jose police, the IPA found.

Of those allegations, 98, or 16 percent, were about use of force,  compared to 120 such complaints in 2011, reflecting a decline in use of force  complaints since 2009, the audit reported.

At 39 percent, the most frequent of the use of force in the  complaints, which often involve multiple allegations from multiple people,  were "control holds" where officers used physical pressure to restrain a  person.

Take downs, where a person is forced to the ground, made up 27  percent of force complaints, with "body weapons" -- punching or kicking by  officers -- next with 18 percent and being hit by a baton at 7 percent.

A total of 10, or five percent of allegations involved a taser,  and only three, or one percent, involved a gun last year.

The report mentioned the department's two officer-involved  shootings, one of which resulted in the death of a suspect, and one suspect  who died in custody in 2012, down from eight such incidents in 2011.    

The IPA was created in 1994 to provide civilian oversight of the  behavior of San Jose police and became a permanent branch of local government  when voters amended the city's charter to include it in 1996.

The IPA, in addition to reviewing IA cases, also accepts case  filings about alleged police misconduct from the public and last year 47  percent of complaints were filed directly with the IPA office, the agency  reported.
        

NBC Bay Area's Monte Francis contributed to this report.

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