Righting a Wrong: Update

By Sgt. Jim Unland #2666

Updating a story we passed along in a previous blog...

The San Jose Police Officers’ Association would like to thank 17-year-old Chris Coutinho and the other members of Boy Scout Troop 294 (South San Jose) for the work they did renovating the area around the sign at Jeffrey Fontana Park. This park was dedicated to the memory of San Jose Police Officer Jeffrey Fontana who was killed in the line of duty on October 28, 2001.

Over the course of several days, the scouts re-routed irrigation and laid new concrete in front of the sign to improve the curb appeal. Chris conceived this project as part of the process to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. He raised funds through donations from his Charter, San Jose Councilwoman Nancy Pyle, and the SJPOA.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. On one of their workdays, someone stole a Hilti brand power hammer and drill bits from the job site. This piece of equipment had been loaned to the Troop, and the replacement cost was in the thousands of dollars. No one’s insurance covered the loss.

When we learned of the theft, the SJPOA established a victim’s assistance fund and, helped by stories in the local paper by Lisa M. Krieger, we received $1,800 in donations from concerned citizens. Hilti representatives Marcus Oden and Brian Comeau also stepped up to the plate. They heard about the theft and donated a replacement power hammer and several of the drill bits. They were also able to replace the remaining stolen items at a reduced cost.

With the money left over from donations, the SJPOA plans to fund other community projects performed by Troop 294, including continued maintenance and beautification at Jeffrey Fontana Park.

Sgt. Jim Unland is a 21-year veteran of the SJPD and a member of the Board of Directors of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.

Protecting Downtown

By James Gonzales

Protecting San Jose has been a calling for my fellow officers and I. We all strive to make our city a better place for all our families. Protect San Jose’s Beat Cop has been asking citizens to pitch in and work with the police department to help make our streets safer. I think we need to ask a few other groups to join us and help protect San Jose.

This last weekend, in the McEnery Convention Center's parking lot, San Jose had it’s 20th homicide of the year. The violence following the Dub auto show and concert was somewhat predictable. Event performer and notorious rapper E-40 has a following that tends to bring his lyrics to life. Not so long ago, E-40 had his own nightclub on South 2nd Street in Downtown San Jose, the Ambassador’s Lounge. Nightly brawls at the club brought some attention to the problems with Downtown’s image and night life.

The final straw came in the form of a running gun battle following an E-40 performance that was like something out of an action movie. Countless bullets flew across streets and parking lots leaving three shot, and police action closed the club. Will history repeat itself?

San Jose has a new big box club called Wet, just a few steps away from the old Ambassador’s Lounge. We certainly see nightly brawls outside of this club, and a recent stabbing inside the club caused a temporary suspension of its entertainment permit and brought some press attention to the issue. The larger issue is changing the image of Downtown San Jose and making it a safer place.

Police can only respond to violence after if occurs. There are, however, groups who can help protect us before the violence happens. Downtown events in our parks, convention center, and other public facilities are managed by contracted organizations like Team San Jose and the Downtown Association. These tax-funded groups make the choices of who will entertain us in our Downtown. These choices affect the safety and image of our Downtown. We have responsible and profitable choices available to us. Attracting wildly successful hip-hop artists like Roots, whose lyrics don’t inspire hate, fear and violence would be a good first step. Not extending alcohol sales hours at park events is another.

Think of the byproducts of a poorly planned event: the police overtime needed to investigate a homicide or shooting — or stabbing — in a concert setting among thousands of people; the citizens in our other neighborhoods, left with only a handful of officers to ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands of people when the majority of resources are pulled Downtown for another major crime response; the officers’ safety when they have to respond to violent crimes in those neighborhoods with no back-up available.

The quick dollar made by booking fare whose image and message puts fear in our citizens is not enough to cover the cost of policing the incidents that erupt at nightclubs and bars afterwards. The Civic Auditorium on San Carlos Street has a beautiful new facelift and is now attracting new artists. Will some acts be reluctant to come into a downtown known for post-show gun battles? I think they might.

Downtown San Jose is a community and a place to bring our families for entertainment and culture. There is however, tremendous pressure to make Downtown profitable. New, towering, luxury condominiums are flying up all over, and hundreds of millions of redevelopment tax dollars are being invested there. Risks are being taken by both private and public entities. In order for our Downtown to succeed, a clear direction must be set by its operators.

The citizens of San Jose must tell our city leaders to make Downtown safety a priority. The City’s Redevelopment Agency and other policy agencies must make Downtown safety a priority in their planning. And groups like Team San Jose — who answer to the City — must hear this message loud and clear: protecting Downtown San Jose takes a cooperative effort by all involved.

With a clear direction and a positive image of Downtown, the people will come and the profits will follow.

James Gonzales is a San Jose Police Officer.

California Leads the Way

By Julianne Sylva

Since the late 1980's, the District Attorney has dedicated a team of professionals to locate and recover children who have been abducted by a parent or family member. This is a complicated area of the law as the district attorney may utilize either criminal or civil laws in family abduction cases.

While I cannot comment specifically on the case presented by Kathleen Flynn in last Wednesday’s blog on this site, I can give some general information about family abduction matters that might be helpful.

In California, a person may not withhold, conceal or abduct a child from another person who has a right of custody to the child. This is different than most states as California does not require that a custody order be violated. In California, both parents have an equal right of custody to the child, even without a court order.

California has been used as a model for other states in this regard. The national Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which has been adopted in 48 of 50 states, is based upon the California Civil Code sections that mandate that prosecutors locate and recover children taken in violation of a person's right to custody. What is so helpful about these civil code sections is that they provide the district attorney with additional tools other than prosecution in order to locate and recover children.

This is important because an arrest warrant may be served upon an abductor, but it will not get the child back to the left-behind parent or guardian. Alternatively, under the civil enforcement option, the prosecutor may get a protective custody warrant for the child and recover the child. Both parents or guardians then return to family court where the judge may resolve outstanding custody and visitation issues.

Another great tool provided to prosecutors is that we may facilitate communication between judges. For example, if one court issues an order regarding custody and a parent removes the child to another jurisdiction and gets another order without revealing that there was a prior order, there would be two conflicting orders. A judicial communication (a fancy term for getting the judges to talk on the record, in their respective courtrooms, with the parties present in their jurisdictions and the matter being conducted on speakerphone and taken down on the record) enables the judges to examine the case history and documents and make a determination as to which court order takes precedence.

I want to take this opportunity to remind you that there is no waiting period to report a missing child, despite what you may hear on television (Penal Code 14205). In fact, we ask that police take a missing person's report and enter the information into the Missing and Unidentified Person System (MUPS) any time a parent or guardian reports to the police that he or she does not know where the other parent and child are. This is because, even if the parent is with the other child and the parent takes the child from the other parent and withholds the child, if the other parent does not know where they are located, the child is considered "missing."

If a situation arises such as the case Kathleen describes in her blog, please contact the district attorney's office in the county where the left-behind parent lives. There are 58 counties in our fine state, and most DA offices have individuals trained to handle these cases.

Our District Attorney, Dolores Carr, created a special service for Santa Clara County residents who wish to report a visitation violation. Her office website now allows a parent to make a visitation violation report online without having to contact their local police agency. This not only frees up valuable police resources and time but also saves the reporting party from having to go to the police station to collect a copy of the report as the party can print the report out immediately at home.

Please be advised that, upon receipt of the online visitation report, the District Attorney's Office will not take further action on the reported violation, but the reporting party may use this report in any future family court filing.

If you have any questions, you may contact me directly at (408) 792-2523 or jsylva@da.sccgov.org. If you’d like our assistance on an abduction case, I ask that you please call our intake number at (408) 792-2921 during business hours.

Julianne Sylva is a Deputy District Attorney for Santa Clara County assigned to the DA’s Child Abduction Unit. She wrote this article in response to last week’s blog by Kathleen Flynn and the comments it generated.

A Rose By Any Other Name

By Sgt. Jim Unland #2666

When I say, “vegetable peeler,” what do you see in your mind’s eye? I’ll wait a moment while you get the image. OK, do you see what I see — a curved kitchen implement a few inches in length used for peeling carrots and potatoes? How about if I were to ask you what you picture when I say, “machete,” “sword,” or “dagger”? Each of these words has a distinct connotation and brings to mind a different image. When the average person communicates, he or she attempts to use precisely the words needed to convey a particular (and accurate) meaning to the intended recipient. Apparently, our local newspaper writers are more interested in conveying scandal than accurate meaning.

Several years ago when a San Jose police officer was confronted by a volatile woman holding a “bladed weapon,” he ordered her to put it down. When she refused, advanced on him and raised it over her head, the officer, fearing for his life, fired his pistol at her to protect the lives of those around him as well as himself. This “bladed weapon” was approximately 10 inches in length and resembled a meat cleaver. Reporters for the local newspaper continue to refer to this bladed weapon as a “vegetable peeler,” which the officer “mistook” as a cleaver. In fact, they did it again in Sunday’s edition, six years after the incident occurred. In reality, what they call a “vegetable peeler” is a cleaver-like implement with a peeler apparatus built into the blade area. To clear up any confusion, I’m including a picture of it here.

There is a very simple point on this matter which I believe has been overlooked all these years: it doesn’t matter what we call this thing. When Bich Cau Thi Tran made the fatal decision to ignore the officer’s demands, when she decided to advance on the officer with the item in question raised above her head in a menacing and threatening manner, it was no longer a kitchen utensil of any kind — it was an instrument of death. It became the sort of deadly weapon that could prevent that officer from ever seeing his loved ones again.

I was the supervisor on the scene that night. I realize I’m probably not the most objective person when it comes to this issue. But let me tell you something: to do our jobs effectively, we rely on people obeying lawful orders. If they don’t, people can die, and no one wants that outcome. If a police officer is confronted by a person holding a bladed tool and orders that person to drop it, they should drop it. That’s what any law-abiding citizen would do because they understand the consequences at stake.

Here’s a question that no one has ever bothered to ask: Why did Tran ignore the officer’s commands and go to a drawer in her kitchen to grab this bladed instrument when the police came to her house on a child endangerment call for service? Why this particular device? What was her intent? What sort of message could she have been trying to convey to the officers? I don’t know about you, but “compliance” and “cooperation” certainly aren’t what I’m thinking. There is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn other than her obvious intent to cause or threaten to cause physical harm to the responding officers.

I’m not sure why reporters for the local paper want their readers to have an image of a harmless kitchen utensil when it comes to this tragic event. Instead of the phrasing “an Asian vegetable peeler that the officer mistook as a cleaver” how about, “an Asian vegetable peeler that looks like a double bladed meat cleaver?” If I were cynical, I might think they were trying to disparage the police department or worse, suggest the most vile use of unnecessary force.

I’m not saying that San Jose police officers are perfect and never make mistakes. But I know this for a fact: not one of the men and women I’ve worked with for the past 21 years desires to take a human life. We got into this profession to protect life. And for the local paper to suggest, imply, or infer otherwise is the only miscarriage of justice to have occurred in this whole tragic episode.

Sgt. Jim Unland is a 21-year veteran of the SJPD and a member of the Board of Directors of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.

Gender Bias and the Judicial System

By Kathleen Flynn

Does the judicial system treat men differently than women when it comes to child custody and providing legal representation? A recent incident has made me wonder. My neighbor came home from work a month ago to find his live-in girl friend of three years gone. She had packed up all her things and left with their newborn son. He had no idea she was leaving. Being close to both of them and Godmother to their son, neither did I.

After trying to call her to no avail, he came to my door in tears asking me if I knew where she was. When she wouldn’t answer her cell phone for me, I advised him to call the Police. SJPD came out and tried calling her too but no luck. We suspected that she was at her mothers in Visalia. SJPD called the Visalia Police.

The Visalia Police finally reached the young woman who simply said, “I don’t want to live with him any more,” and the Visalia Police left it at that. SJPD let my neighbor know that it was now a civil matter, and after trying to console him a bit they left.

The next day, I made several calls and got advice on where to send him for legal assistance. Since he lost his job over this, he qualified for Legal Aid. He went down there but they refused to help him, citing not enough staff. An attorney I know who works in the Family Law Clinic had me send him to a free clinic in San Jose. After several hours wait, he had to fill out his own paperwork with very little guidance, take it down to the court, file it, and wait another ten days until the judge issued a court order.

I had him call the DA’s Office for help. Their office was very helpful and compassionate. The clerk had him come down immediately and fill out paperwork, so they could assist him. I asked the clerk why the Police didn’t put out an Amber Alert when the child was abducted. She said she didn’t know but that the mother could not leave the County with the infant without a court order. She advised that once the judge issued an order he was to bring it to them immediately so they could track her down and serve her.

Ten days later, the judge finally ordered the mother back to Santa Clara County and set a court date for September 18th. The judge knew the mother was unemployed, living with her mother — who is on drugs and on Welfare with three other children — and had abducted his child. Yet the judge refused to give him temporary custody, even though he lives with his fully-employed mother, and has the means and will to take care of his son. No visitation order before the court date was made either. The DA’s Office has spoken to the young woman to notify her that she must return immediately, but she has refused, so they are still working to locate her residence.

In the midst of all this, I have continually wondered: Would they have treated her the same way if the situation were reversed? Would Legal Aid, attorneys, authorities, the judge, and the judicial system have behaved with the same disinterest they have toward him? If he had taken the child, would they have asked her if she beat him, or beat her son, or cheated on him? I don’t believe anyone in authority would ask a woman those kinds of questions.

What do you think?

Kathleen Flynn is a professional mediator and community activist.

Cost of Doing Business

By Ed Rast

Did you know that San Jose, without sufficient jobs for its residents and lacking the tax revenue that would generate — has raised taxes and fees to the point that the cost of doing business in our city is prohibitive to recruiting new businesses.

As I noted last week, San Jose loses 50,069 working residents — or 5.6% of our residential population — during the day when they commute to jobs in other cites.

Businesses looking to startup, grow, or relocate review many factors when making a decision about where to locate their operations: availability of skilled workers and management, housing for those workers, access to transportation, city service levels, quality of life, customers, suppliers, the city’s public policies, time to approve permits. All of these factors contribute to the “cost of doing business” in a particular locale.

A 2008 survey by the Kosmont-Rose Institute ranks San Jose as a “High Cost of Doing Business” city based on city business, sales, property, electric and phone utility rates, and state corporate income taxes. Community data takes into account city population, FBI Crime in the United States rates, taxable retail store sales, and transportation and economic development Incentives to create a complete understanding of the business climate in a city.

The Kosmont-Rose Survey User Guide explains the methodology behind the rankings.

The Kosmont-Rose survey is widely used by corporations, real estate developers, community planners, and public officials. Business relocation specialists use it to compare cities, especially when trying to decide between desirable locations.

Economic development officials use it to target companies in high cost cities that might be relocation candidates as we have seen with relocation campaigns run by states like Texas, Arizona and Nevada. Many former San Jose companies have moved their jobs or expanded in other states

California’s corporate tax rates are among the ten highest in the nation per the Kosmont-Rose Index of Corporate Tax Rates by State.

This Santa Clara County Cost of Doing Business and Jobs Map shows the cost of doing business ranking and the number of jobs per 100 employed residents for cities in Santa Clara County. Here are the top seven cities in jobs per 100 employees and their cost of doing business:

Palo Alto : Average CODB; 254 jobs per 100 employed residents
Santa Clara: Low CODB; 218 jobs per 100
Milpitas – Very low CODB; 164 jobs per 100
Mountain View: Average CODB; 147 jobs
Cupertino – Average CODB; 147 jobs
Campbell – Low CODB; 109 jobs
San Jose – High CODB; 88 jobs

This South Bay Area Cost of Doing Business Map shows other cities color-coded by cost of doing business. Note that job growth in Northern California has come mostly in inland cities with lower costs of doing business.

A February 2009 survey by the Ticon Company entitled Tenant Improvement Permits and Fees shows that fees and plan check times for a 10,000 square-foot tenant improvement with a valuation of $300,000.00 range from $4352 to $9763 on average. San Jose’s fee for the same permit is $24,000.

A high cost of doing business, while not the only factor that determines where a business will locate, is many times a “deal breaker” in these decisions, especially when the debate is between desirable neighboring cities, a problem San Jose knows all too well in Silicon Valley.

California city government revenues can be significantly increased or decreased by business activity – through jobs and consumer sales taxes or increases in business tax and fee rates. The local cities with more jobs and retail stores per resident have higher revenues and a lower cost of doing business than San Jose.

However, instead of trimming back on non-essential services, San Jose’s city administration chose to increase tax and fee rates to balance the City budget.

See my blog from last week for comparisons of local city tax revenue and jobs.

Sleeping Giant

By Pete Pomerleau

Admiral Yamamoto could have been speaking for the San Jose City Council when he said: "We have awoken a sleeping giant." Yamamoto’s sleeping giant was the United States, awoken by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The giant in today's terms is the body of active and retired employees of the City of San Jose, and the battle is over our pension plans.

For those not up to speed, the City is in full-on attack mode. City administration hired an outside agency from Canada called Cortex to look at making our pension plan "better." We were assured during meetings with these consultants that we as stakeholders would have a say in any re-organization. I can tell you for a fact that we will, because this is a clear meet-and-confer issue under our contracts, as noted by Bobby Lopez and Randy Sekany in their blog last week on Protect San Jose.

I spent two nights last week listening to and addressing some of the changes proposed by Cortex that the City is planning to ram down our throats. Beyond the damage these changes would do to officer morale as well as our recruitment and retention efforts, the proposed plan is just plain flawed.

The best people to manage a pension fund are the employees who pay into it. City staff has been trying to figure out ways to cut into our well-managed plans for years to subsidize the many financial quagmires they’ve gotten themselves into. We have to scale back on our new Southern Substation because of poor business decisions and practices made by supposed experts. We couldn't even get our new City Hall completed without numerous problems, and we hired the best architects in the country. Now the city wants us to hire more experts to manage our pensions. Well, I’ve got news for you: You could hire Warren Buffet to manage our funds, but he wouldn’t be able to guarantee higher returns.

I want to share some other ideas that were presented to us by Cortex and some of our responses. For reference, you should click here to open their report, which City Manager Figone brought before the City Council on June 23rd.

On page 27 of the report (p. 33 of the pdf), Cortex cites “good” examples of companies that changed their retirement boards in similar ways. Funny, but the numbers I have tell quite a different story:

• Canada Pension Plan: lost 18.6%
• National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust: lost 19%
• Yale Corporation Investment Fund: lost 25% this year

On the other hand, during 2008, the San Jose Police and Fire pension plan lost 5.1% and the Federated plan lost 3.1%. The question begs to be asked: What are we getting by putting our future in the hands of the “experts”?

As members, we contribute a chunk of our salaries every payday to the future of our plan. We also contribute our tax money into the plan along with every other resident. This is a well-developed plan that has generated tens of millions of dollars in returns to the City. We never asked for a bigger cut while the City reaped the rewards in the bullish years. But they have seen it fit to attack and demonize us in the court of public opinion in the lean years.

Maybe in the future the City should think about putting some revenue away for a rainy day, rather than spending it on non-essential services. Wouldn’t that be a sound business idea?

Before I sign off, you should know that Councilmembers Ash Kalra and Rose Herrera sat through both community outreach meetings last week. They listened as City employees described their frustrations. Rose even walked through the crowds and spoke one-on-one with us. This is a fine example of the dialogue we so desperately need to have with our Councilmembers. I’d like to thank Ash and Rose for leading the way.

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