Nearly a third of San Jose police officers received complaints in 2021, concerning advocates who say the numbers show the wide swath of reform efforts happening in the city aren’t working.

The number of complaints increased nearly 25 percent over 2020, when San Jose saw significant upheaval in response to the police killing of George Floyd, including police violence against protesters and calls for an overhaul of policing in the city.

The city’s annual report from the Independent Police Auditor, released last week, shows 348 officers, or about 31 percent of the force, were named in at least one complaint in 2021, either from the public or internally from another officer or employee. Of the complaints from the public, the report said 1,000 individual allegations were made. Roughly 16 percent of the complaints about police officers contained allegations about use of force, down from roughly 23 percent in 2020.

Most officers were named in only one complaint, but some had more than one, including eight officers with four complaints each in 2021.

Raj Jayadev, the founder of the two decade-old community organizing group Silicon Valley De-Bug, told San Jose Spotlight the increase in complaints indicates the police department is “inherently problematic and harmful to the community” at large.

“Any of the efforts, whether genuine or just basic promotion that was supposed to be about reforming the police since the George Floyd uprisings, have proven to be completely ineffective. If anything, the issue is trending worse,” Jayadev said.

In 2021, the police department’s internal affairs unit investigated and closed a total of 262 complaints about officer conduct. Those closed complaints can include incidents from several years, not only 2021. Among those 262 conduct complaints, 12 percent contained at least one allegation that was sustained, or found to likely be true.

Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said the number of complaints needs to be taken with a large grain of salt.

“I would be concerned if these were sustained complaints,” Saggau told San Jose Spotlight. “I think the topline number, although it could be sensational, it’s really about whether or not the complaints are sustained, whether or not they are actually true. That’s really the right barometer in our mind.”

He noted the auditor disagreed with the police investigation of claims in just 9 percent of closed complaints. The auditor also categorized 9 percent of cases as “closed with concerns” over the quality of the police investigation.

“We think this IPA report validates that the department is headed in the right direction when it comes to accountability,” Saggau said.

Sgt. Christian Camarillo, an SJPD spokesperson, declined an interview request from San Jose Spotlight to discuss the complaints. Mayor Sam Liccardo was unavailable for an interview, according to a spokesperson.

Based on the complaints lodged in 2021, the auditor’s office made 10 recommendations to SJPD, including amending the police duty manual to more clearly ban retaliation by officers, and ensuring officers offer up important information like their badge number and name during traffic stops.

In a memo responding to the report, the San Jose Police Department said it views the auditor’s recommendations as 36 separate items, some of which it has already put into place, some it is actively working to adopt and some that could be adopted over roughly the next year.

In addition to the auditor’s report, the city’s police department received more than 300 recommendations from three outsourced police accountability reports. They detailed how the police department failed to comply with procedures due to a lack of training that resulted in poor policing.

The reports also highlighted how the local Latino population was disproportionately targeted by police use of force, how officers failed to properly file use of force reports and how officers’ actions made the 2020 protests more chaotic.

Looking for answers

Another set of recommendations is coming in late October from the Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory group that was formed in September 2021 in response to the 2020 protests. Its recommendations focus on police responses and civilian oversight in the San Jose Police Department, along with support for families impacted by the justice system.

SJPD said it is reviewing over 450 recommendations in all from several sources.

Jayadev thinks the police department and city are more interested in reform window dressing, not significant changes.

“I know the city’s put up Black Lives Matter banners. They created these task forces, but they’re just completely inadequate,” Jayadev said. “At the same time, they turned a complete blind eye on the ideas and solutions that came directly from impacted families who actually make up the numbers and those complaints.”

Saggau said Jayadev is only interested in abolishing the police, which most San Jose residents don’t support.

“He can shout from the mountaintops all he wants about impacted families wanting less police, but I would take a look at what those impacted families have or haven’t done with the folks they’ve raised,” Saggau said.

The San Jose City Council will review the report at its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Learn how to watch and participate.

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