ON THE HEELS of a tumultuous year for San Jose police, advocates are renewing calls to give the city’s independent police watchdog more power.

More than two dozen people gathered outside San Jose City Hall recently to demand the independent police auditor (IPA) have full independent investigatory powers over the San Jose Police Department. Organizers said the need for an unbiased outside review of police misconduct is long overdue.

Rev. Sammie Evans, civic engagement director at People Acting in Community Together, told San José Spotlight the lack of true independent oversight of policing in San Jose is unjust and breeds corruption.

“The police in America have really been untouchable in their history,” Evans said.

Complaints against officers have increased in recent years, according to an annual report from the IPA. Nearly a third of San Jose police officers received complaints in 2021, up from nearly a quarter of officers in 2020.

“We can no longer have officers investigating officers. It really is a matter of life or death for a lot of community members. A lot of their stories are not being validated or understood.”

Cole Mitchell, an SJSU student

City officials and advocates have called for the IPA to have more oversight for years with the issue reigniting following the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

Right now, the police department investigates all misconduct claims and the police auditor can only attend interviews conducted by internal affairs to determine whether the investigation is thorough and fair. If the auditor’s office feels a determination is incomplete or unfair, the auditor can appeal to the police chief and then the city manager.

The San Jose City Council agreed in December to allow the IPA to investigate some misconduct complaints, while internal affairs would also maintain investigative powers over some cases.

The council’s action followed suggestions from an outside report commissioned by the city. The specifics of what powers the IPA will be granted still need to be worked out between the IPA’s office and the city. A discussion that had been scheduled for the city’s Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee on April 20 was deferred until June 15. The public safety committee will discuss a significant list of police reforms at its meeting in May.

A group of people gathered outside San San Jose City Hall on April 20, 2023, listens to Rev. Sammie Evans of People Acting in Community Together call for the city’s police auditor to have more oversight powers. (Joseph Geha/San Jose Spotlight)

“We can no longer have officers investigating officers,” Cole Mitchell, an SJSU student at the rally, told San José Spotlight. “It really is a matter of life or death for a lot of community members. A lot of their stories are not being validated or understood.”

Independent Police Auditor Shivaun Nurre told San José Spotlight she’s pushing for her office to have greater oversight of complaints against officers.

“Given the public interest in some of the complaints, I would like to have a broader scope of what we can do, but that’s currently under discussion,” Nurre said.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who chairs the public safety committee, said calls for expanding IPA powers are likely to be heeded.

“Especially with what has been happening with the SJPOA and what’s been going on around the country as of late. I think you’ll find that the councilmembers are going to be supportive of expanding the powers of the IPA,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight.

Contact Joseph Geha at joseph@sanjosespotlight.com or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.