Paperwork

By Bobby Lopez

I don’t know about you, but I was having a good weekend up until yesterday morning. That’s when I saw this article in the Mercury News.

A long-awaited police substation is about to cost $5 million more than the City originally thought. It’s the second time this year City administration has had to adjust their numbers because of “flawed design documents”. To add insult to injury, they want the council to pay for the cost overrun with funds that are meant for a police driver safety training center.

In the past, I’ve pointed out numerous examples of wasteful spending coming out of City Hall. This is just another example, and it comes at the expense of cops.

This substation has been a long time coming. Our officers and support staff are stretched too thin to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. A second home in South San Jose would relieve some of the pressure. Councilmember Kalra has it right the Merc story when he says, “it’s something we need to do.”

But think of the cops we could put on the beat with $5 million. Think of the new technology SJPD could use to improve reporting and records keeping. Think of the community policing programs we could fund. I think about it, and it makes me cringe, because instead of spending that $5 million on public safety, we’re making up for messy paperwork.

Recently, we’ve been hearing about how police pensions and benefits are bleeding our City coffers dry. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad in the first place if the City spent our tax dollars wisely.

Bobby Lopez is President of the San Jose Police Officers' Association

Time to Go

Friends,

I am writing to explain my decision to resign as President of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association effective January 1, 2010. I am extremely proud to have been President for nearly four years. We have the finest group of police officers in the entire country, and it has been my privilege to serve you. That being the case, I feel that it is now time for me to leave.

I have made some needed changes, and I hope that my Presidency has strengthened the organization, both internally and through relationships with every organization and person the SJPOA deals with.

I will be writing in more detail regarding my term as President in my monthly column in the POA’s Vanguard newsletter. It has been a long four years, with numerous late nights and long meetings. I have been thinking about this for some time. I signed up to be a street cop and a father to my two sons. As I come to the end of my career, I want an opportunity to finish on the streets and to spend more time with my two boys.

I know that Vice President George Beattie will be a strong President for you in the future and that the POA has a great Board of Directors to serve its membership.

Please be safe out there.

Robert "Bobby" Lopez
President, SJPOA

Where's the Accountability?

By Pete Constant

How many times have you read an article online or in a newspaper that questions whether the San José Police Department holds its officers fully accountable for their actions? To be honest, I’ve lost count.

In 1993, the City of San José opened the office of the Independent Police Auditor (IPA). This newly created position was designed specifically to ensure that police officers were held accountable for their actions and to ensure that the police Internal Affairs Unit did not whitewash investigations of misconduct.

Approximately 4 years ago the San José City Council appointed Barbara Attard to be the IPA for a four year term. Since Attard lived in San Francisco, the city council provided her relocation assistance and a $250,000 executive home loan so that she could live in the community she served. When her term of office ended at the end of 2008 the city council decided to not re-appoint her. Attard continued to make her payments on her executive home loan for 3 months, and then abruptly stopped paying – even though she continued to make her first mortgage payments to her mortgage company. Months later, she informed the City of San José that she could not sell her home so she offered the city a deed to the property in lieu of foreclosure. Of course, there was still the matter of the first mortgage, so the city would have to pay off that loan in order to take possession of the home. Unfortunately, the city council agreed with this, voting to approve the settlement (9-2, with Councilmember Campos and myself voting against).

So she walked away from her obligations, leaving the taxpayers holding the bag – nearly $350,000 in loan forgiveness, and now the residents of San José own a downtown condo that might be worth $240,000 - if you could even sell it in today’s market.

So I ask, where did the concept of accountability go?

Four and a half years ago the city council approved this home loan, even though it appears to fail to meet the spirit or even the letter of the Executive Home Loan Program. After all, the intent of the loan program was to help new executive relocate to San José, an area long known for its high housing prices. But Attard was coming from San Francisco, an area with even higher housing costs.

Can anyone really argue that accepting a job 40 miles or so from your home requires relocation? Many hardworking city employees and taxpayers commute farther than that every day to their jobs.

The Executive Home Loan Program also specifically states that these loans are for the executive’s “principal residence.” While it was well known that Attard maintained her San Francisco residence during her employment, it is less known that Attard maintained her voter registration in San Francisco County and continued to vote in elections there while she was employed as the IPA. Remember, if you move, you are required to re-register to vote when you move to a new residence. Additionally, Attard never filed for a Homeowner’s Property Tax Exemption in Santa Clara County, but did keep the Homeowner’s Property Tax Exemption on file for her San Francisco residence. You can see that to claim this exemption, you must certify, under penalty of perjury, that you occupy your home as your “principal residence”.

So did Attard qualify for an Executive Home Loan to purchase her principal residence? I don’t think so, it’s clear to me she didn’t think it was her principal residence.

So where’s the accountability? Is the city council not responsible for approving this loan? Most of that council is no longer in office, so I guess not. Is Attard responsible for leaving the taxpayers holding the bag? I guess not, since the city attorney has informed the council that we have no other recourse. In fact, the city’s Finance Department doesn’t even think we are able to report the default to the credit reporting agencies.

With the city unable to provide essential services, can we really afford to buy a condo?

I, for one, am not willing to sit by and just let this go. I have asked the city manager to not offer this Executive Home Loan to any new hires until the Council can conduct a full review of the program, and I have asked for an investigation into the facts of the case.

Pete Constant is serving his first term on the San Jose City Council representing District 1 (West San Jose).

Our Report Card from the IPA

By Bobby Lopez

Yesterday, the San Jose City Council got some good news in an annual report from our interim Independent Police Auditor: The total number of citizen complaints against San Jose police officers fell 5% between 2007 and 2008.

I have to admit, hearing that made me feel pretty good. But then I thought about a Mercury News story I read two weeks ago when the IPA report was first published. I didn’t remember seeing that 5% figure in the story, so I looked it up online and read it again.

Sure enough, the overall drop in complaints isn’t mentioned until the middle of the third paragraph, and even then it’s almost an afterthought. Based on the headline and the opening of the story, the paper was more interested in pointing out that “slightly more people complained that San Jose officers used unnecessary force or were rude to them in 2008.”

Maybe the Mercury News thinks a slight increase in a single category is bigger news than a 5% drop overall. I like to focus on the bigger picture, so let me borrow a line from Protect San Jose statistical guru Ed Rast:

Did you know that SJPD handled a record 436,855 calls for service in 2008 and only 467 (0.1%) of those resulted in a citizen complaint? Or that the number of complaints per 100,000 residents (47) has stayed pretty much level over the past few years even though our city’s population has grown by almost 50,000 people since 2005?

(By the way, I’m a little confused... The City Administration’s numbers say that 1.0% of calls for service resulted in a complaint. By my math, it’s about ten times less than that. I went ahead and included the Administration’s numbers, just so you know I’m not kidding around. Check out the chart at the bottom of page 2, run the numbers, and see what you get.)

I’ve said it before, cops work in the most scrutinized profession in America. We accept that and we welcome the scrutiny because we think we do a pretty good job. But I’d sure like to see the number of complaints against other City departments — that is, if statistics are available. Can any department do better than 0.1%?

Who do I call in the City of San Jose’s Department in Charge of Decimal Points?

Bobby Lopez is President of the San Jose Police Officers' Association

Right Goal, Wrong Measure

By Ed Rast

Did you know San Jose residents and business don’t have sufficient information to know if our city is safe?

San Jose frequently quotes CQ Press’s 2008 City Crime Rankings as an indicator of our city’s public safety. In 2008, we were ranked 4th on CQ’s list of “Safest Large Cities in America” (with populations over 500,000) based on the FBI’s “Crime in United States 2007“ data.

CQ Press’ methodology states:

The crimes tracked by the UCR Program include violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault and property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, also called “Crime Index” offenses; the index is simply the total of the seven main offense categories. The FBI discontinued use of this measure in 2004 because its officials and advisory board of criminologists concluded that the index was no longer a true indicator of crime. ….. The consensus of the FBI and its advisory groups was that the Crime Index no longer served its purpose and that a more meaningful index should be developed.

Public safety is consistently ranked as the #1 city budget priority by San Jose’s residents. With that in mind, maintaining our status as the “Safest Big City in America” is still a good goal. But once you looked at why the FBI discontinued its use of the CQ methodology — because it was “no longer a true indicator of crime” — you begin to understand a new measurement is needed.

San Jose’s city administration should not rely on CQ Press’s City Crime Rankings to measure public safety, or set city budget priorities or police staffing levels.

Developing additional, detailed crime comparisons for San Jose and selected large cities in our county and state based on the FBI’s annual “Crime in the United States“ report will provide the Mayor, City Council, residents and businesses with additional information to measure public safety and set police staffing and budget levels.

In addition, there are two public reports that, if published monthly, could assist in police staff and budget allocations and educate everyone about crime and related social issues. The public could then use Community Policing to potentially prevent crimes and also address the social issues that contribute to crime.

Phoenix’s Monthly Count of Actual Offenses Known to Police uses the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) classifications and definitions and is a more comprehensive citywide crime report that what is available in San Jose.

The California Department of Justice’s Adult and Juvenile Criminal Report provides crime and demographic data that could alert city leaders, city administration and residents to potential social or criminal problems such as the drunk-in-public arrest rates. (See Page 2: Misdemeanors - Drunk; Page 4: Adult demographics; Page 6: Juvenile demographics.)

Unfortunately, due to budget shortages, the San Jose Police Department does not have the requested staff or improved technology systems needed to replace it’s decades-old, inefficient manual reports and retrieval system. Either of these would allow SJPD to produce the desired reports I have discussed previously.

National Night Out Recap

By Jim Cogan

Last Tuesday, thousands of San Jose residents joined together with San Jose police officers to celebrate National Night Out. All over the city, officers who walk the beat on the midnight shift came to work early to get the opportunity to meet the neighbors that they serve.

In my neighborhood, over 80 residents came together for the first time in recent memory. It was a wonderful gathering of neighbors and police officers. Two sergeants and six officers attended our event. Amid the ice cream and good conversation I heard a phrase that summarized the entire event: “Now that I know about it, I’ll be on the look out…”

This statement was made by the officer who works the midnight shift on our neighborhood beat. His promise to be on the lookout for whatever was bothering my neighbor is exactly what National Night Out is all about, the community and police working together to protect San Jose. Perhaps they were discussing the recent car burglaries in the neighborhood or a strange car that doesn’t belong to anyone in the neighborhood. Whatever the case, the officer now has some invaluable information and my neighbor knows that that the police are ready to help.

I spoke to the officer, who appreciated the opportunity to meet the residents on his beat. He told me that he never gets to talk to residents, because most of us are asleep when he punches in for his shift. I was impressed with all of the officers who attended our event and speaking for my neighbors, I think we all will sleep a little better. The officers were all very courteous and excited to have the opportunity to meet residents. It really made my neighbors happy as well. Many of them thanked me for organizing the event and talked about how to make it better next year.

In our neighborhood, National Night Out sparked interest in getting organized. In fact, sixty of my neighbors signed up to organize a neighborhood watch and start a neighborhood association. I am confident that together we will strengthen our partnership with the San Jose Police Department and make our neighborhood safer.

Jim Cogan is President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.

Help Us Get Your Stuff Back

By Beat Cop

Part three of a three-part series.

Getting woken up by a late night phone call from the police is almost always a bad thing. Extreme anxiety fills your body as you hear, “Hello this is Officer Fernandez from the Police Department.” The worst case scenario runs throughout your head.

“We have located a laptop computer that may have been taken from your house in a burglary. If you can come down to the police department and identify it, I may be able to release it to you tonight.“ Sounds almost too good too be true. It could be a reality if you follow some simple advice from your local Beat Cop.

Taking the time to inventory items in your home may be the most effective weapon you have in helping the police catch thieves. When an officer responds to your home to take a burglary report, they will look for clues, canvass for witnesses and catalog the items taken. A victim who has serial numbers written down for their stolen iPod, laptop, camcorder and Play-Station will likely get “some or all” of the items returned to them. If however, no serial numbers are available, there is almost no chance the items will ever be returned to their rightful owners.

All police departments in California utilize the same database to track stolen items. High-value items are entered into a nationwide tracking system. Police come into contact with crooks every day as part of our job. It can be frustrating to come into contact with a person on parole for burglary that has three laptops in a backpack and tells you that he “found them.” The officer will surely do their part and have the dispatcher check the serial numbers in the database. But if the victims of the burglary were not able to provide serial numbers to the responding officer, the parolee may be able to walk away with the likely stolen laptops. Even if the officer is able to seize the laptops for further investigation, the owners will likely never be located if no serial number was provided.

Burglars are predictable. If you or your neighborhood have been target for a burglar, it is likely they will continue to victimize that same area. One tool citizens use more frequently is a low-cost home video surveillance system. Home DVR systems are becoming more popular and are helping the police catch burglars. Even if you have not been the victim of a burglary, your video system may have seen the person who broke into your neighbor’s home and is planning on breaking into yours in the near future. Neighborhood organizations and groups are coordinating with each other after a crime occurs on their street. They are sharing information about the crime in emails, community meetings and now videos of suspicious people — and even criminals caught in the act.

Help us help you now and download this simple home inventory form. Walk through your home and jot down the make, model and serial numbers of any item in your house you would like returned to you if ever a burglar makes their way into your home and walks off with your stuff. Take photos of jewelry and items without serial numbers. Tuck the form away and hope it is never needed. If the unfortunate day comes when you do need it, you will have done the most effective thing you can to help the police catch the person who violated you and get your stuff back.

Proudly serving you,
Your Beat Cop

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