by Josh Koehn on Jun 22, 2012
The SubZERO Festival in downtown San Jose earlier this month went off without a hitch, but business owners still plan to beef up security on the streets. (Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly)
A woman twirls from flowing red curtains a dozen feet in the air. Down the street, a painted lady contorts her multi-colored torso at an angle so the she blends with artwork behind her.
Nearby, a couple of guys with Day of the Dead face paint riff on a guitar and keyboard. And not far off, among the ebullient SubZERO Festival crowd of 15,000-plus—filled with artists, musicians, craft brew aficionados and downtown ramblers—are six men dressed in all black, keeping a watchful eye; some with batons, others Tasers. One carries a gun.
These men are not police.
Rather, they’re part of Silver Star Protective Services, a private security firm that was hired to patrol the June 1 arts and music subculture festival held on South First Street in San Jose. But when a San Jose police sergeant approached one of the security guards that night, some controversy arose.
They were “not only wearing uniform like ours, but also wearing duty belts, batons, tasers, pepper spray or other chemical agents,” says San Jose Police Department spokesman Jose Garcia. “The sergeant expressed concern that they were too similar looking to SJPD and asked them to leave and remove their tasers, firearms and baton, but they could keep pepper spray and mace.”
Henry David Mestaz, president and CEO of Silver Star, says the officer in charge of policing the outskirts of the event was “pretty aggressive” in getting his point across, but there was no altercation.
“Our gameplan was we anticipated thousands of people we’re going to come through,” Mestaz says, noting a reputation downtown events have earned over the years due to younger, disruptive crowds that attended the now defunct Music in the Park summer concert series—to the chagrin of local business owners. “Some of the clientele that was going to Music in the Park were meeting over here afterwards (on South First Street). They were hanging out, drinking, making there way towards the event, and then coming back and fighting. But SubZERO was completely the opposite.”
Under San Jose’s municipal code, police have the authority to regulate which security guards can arm themselves. Silver Star—a new company that may have been “overly excited and enthusiastic,” according to SubZERO organizers Cherri Lakey and Brian Eder, who own Anno Domini art gallery on South First Street—could have gone too far in looking the part of cops in uniform.
The clash between police and the private security company didn’t result in any citations, but it has produced an internal review by SJPD that is expected to reach the city attorney and chief of police’s offices to clarify acceptable uniform and weaponry for outside protective services, Officer Garcia says.
But the events at SubZERO, or actually the lack thereof, seems to speak to the misconception many people have of downtown San Jose, as well as those charged with patrolling it.
“We’re all trying really hard to shift culture, and especially night culture,” Eder says. “It’s just a matter for us that we want to show police we can have events that go really smoothly. And over a matter of time we can all figure this out.”
Part of a new plan by the business community to rebrand downtown is to staff the city’s core with two patrolling officers. However, how these security guards will be paid has kicked off a new fight between police and city officials.