In just two months, SJPD Chief Rob Davis will be retiring. This means that the city has just two months to find a replacement for him, and plenty of people—in City Council and on the street—have a good idea of what they should be looking for. Davis had a controversial tenure, at least in some quarters, and community activists frequently accused the police of using overly aggressive tactics and racial profiling.
Many groups, led by the ACLU and the NAACP, are calling for a public process through which candidates will be selected and vetted. Activist Wiggsy Sivertsen called plans to keep the decision making process in the hands of city officials only, “a sad commentary about the city’s attitude regarding its citizens.”
This claim is rejected by City Councilmember Sam Liccardo, who believes that a totally open process would prevent top candidates from applying, since it would be signaling to their current employers that they are looking for a new job. This actually happened to Rob Davis, who applied for a job in Dallas. Once it became known publicly that he was planning to leave his job, he lost much of the clout that comes with the office. Nevertheless, Liccardo is also concerned with the secrecy of the current process, and has asked City Manager Debra Figone to find ways to make it more open and obtain greater public involvement in the decision.
She agrees with Liccardo, and contends that public meetings, internet surveys, and a community panel sworn to secrecy would be enough to allay public fears. She did not relate to fears that the city would face another incident like it did in 2008, when it used a closed-door process to hire Chris Constantin as police auditor. Only after this was made public was it discovered that Constantin’s brother served on the police force, presenting him with a serious conflict of interest.
To avoid such problems, the city held the first of five community meetings last night at the Roosevelt Community Center. The meeting, attended by about two dozen people, was intended to hear what experience, skills, and proven track record the public deems necessary for any potential candidate. Spanish and Vietnamese translation services were available, reflecting the concern that any candidate be amenable to the diverse ethnic communities in San Jose.
This was reflected in discussions by the breakout groups, all of whom raised issues pertaining to ethnic diversity. Some suggested that the new chief be bilingual, if not trilingual, along with an ability to communicate in simple English.
Another point raised was a proven track record not only of hiring new police officers but of firing existing police officers who have overstepped their boundaries. This, coupled with the hiring of new officers from the various immigrant communities, would break down the distrust that currently exists between these communities and the police force.
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