City Manager Debra Figone has already organized seven community meetings to discuss the qualifications she should be looking for in a new police chief. The combined attendance at these meetings was less than at a single meeting organized by the community-based Coalition for Justice and Accountability, and the Coalition is continuing to plan new meetings. For those who can’t attend, they are also making video tapes of the most moving testimonies, which express the concerns that local residents have about the direction the SJPD has been taking.

One of these videos features local radio host David Madrid, who says, “The sad truth is, I’m more fearful of the police then I am of suspected gang members in my community over here on the East Side. For the most part, the homeboys will just roll by; the cops are the ones that will stop and start trouble.” This was echoed by a teenager who asks, “How can you stop cops from stereotyping young people as gangbangers because of the way they dress?” Then there is Vinh Pham, whose mentally ill son Daniel was killed in a hail of fourteen bullets fired by the police at his home.

These unofficial meetings, conducted in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, are intended to give a voice to communities who are seldom heard, explains activist Raj Jayadev of Silicon Valley De-Bug. He cites a survey that says that 63 percent of residents in the city have felt disrespected by a police officer at one time or other.

The fact that city officials are taking these meetings seriously is not lost on Jayadev.  Debra Figone, who is heading the search to find a new police chief, is taking these meetings seriously. She has attended every one of them, and calls them “the epitome of civic engagement.” Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell agrees. After attending a forum for the African American community held at the Antioch Baptist Church, she walked away impressed, saying that the “process is now evolving that is giving people a sense of their ability to have some say.”

They are having a say. A single Spanish-language forum attracted 200 people, about twice as many people as attended all of the city’s official meetings. Both Figone and Cordell say they realize that their concerns cannot be ignored.
Read More at The Mercury News.