Opening Police Records

By Kathleen Flynn

As a Victim’s Right Advocate and a mediator who has worked with both victims and offenders, I fervently oppose opening Police records to the press and the public for a number of reasons. If the City were to cave in and enact said policy, who would oversee and hold the press accountable for what they print? The answer, absolutely no one! Clearly the media has a problem with grasping the difference between facts vs. fiction, personal bias vs. truth, and sensationalism vs. true journalism. Pick up a paper, or turn on the TV or radio, and read about the woman who murdered her child, ate her brain, tore her face off, and then tried to kill herself. I rest my case.

If there were an open policy for the press to read Police records, and you were a rape victim or if your neighbor molested your child the press would be allowed to read every detail of your assault, or your child’s molestation. You would be re-victimized, and forced to relive that horror every day thanks to sensationalistic reporting.

How many victims of rape or any other victim of violent crime do you think would come forward knowing that their right to privacy is going to be violated by prying eyes? Rape and violent crimes are already grossly under-reported as it is, and this type of “sunshine” isn’t going to benefit a single victim I know or have worked with.

What about the rights of someone who has been falsely accused of a crime, or the families of offenders who suffer hate crimes due to press coverage of the case? What about groups like the ACLU, the NAACP, and others who are lying in wait to sue the Police Department or the City over something they think should have been handled differently? None of these groups are trained or skilled in Police work, policies, or procedures, nor were they at the scene of the crime, nor were they sitting in on interviews of witnesses or offenders yet they would be allowed to make judgments on practices they have no expertise in.

While these are just some of the concerns I have on this topic, let me leave you with this to ponder: How much easier would we be making it on child molesters, rapists, robbers, or gang members to study the way Police investigations are handled so that they could cover their tracks better, or figure out exactly who provided the Police with information on apprehending them so they could take their revenge?

Kathleen Flynn is a professional mediator and community activist.

A Four-Year-Old Mistake

By Ed Rast

Did you know that after police staffing reductions in 2005, San Jose’s property crime rate increased 25%, causing us to lose our “Safest Big City in the United States” ranking after six consecutive years at the top?

The San Jose Police Department in 2005 was required by city administration to reduce staffing because of budget cuts. This brought police staffing back to nearly 1998 levels — though the city’s population had grown 10% between 1998 and 2005 — and forced the department to appropriately prioritize violent crimes against people over property crimes.

The 2005 staffing and budget reductions resulted in many property crimes not being prevented, investigated or cleared due to officer and police staff shortages. Property crimes increased as well as misdemeanor and financial crimes.

If you go to City-Data.com’s San Jose page and scroll down to he chart labeled “Crime in San Jose by Year”, you can see the increase in crime after 2005 in the eight categories used by the FBI to determine the safest cities. (Click a category to compare San Jose’s crime rate to national crime rates in a bar graph.)

Many property crimes like burglaries and vehicle theft are committed by habitual criminals who will continue to commit increasingly more property crimes unless prevented by patrolling officers or arrested after their crimes are investigated. But due primarily to officer shortages, San Jose’s property crime rates are on the rise.

For example, San Jose’s car theft rate first exceeded the national vehicle thief average in 2004, when 4,517 vehicles were stolen here. The rate dramatically increased after 2005 staff cuts to reach 2006’s high of 7,139 stolen vehicles. That and the 6,413 vehicles stolen in 2007 were both almost double the national rate. 2008’s 5,229 stolen vehicles — while a substantially lower number — still exceeds the national average.

Reducing police staffing in 2005 as opposed to adding additional police staff proportional to San Jose’s increased population was not the only factor in the increase in overall and property crime rates, but it was likely a very significant factor. The FBI Crime Report cautions: “Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. It is important to remember that crime is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. The efforts of law enforcement are limited to factors within its control.”

Crime will predictably increase during recessions due to unemployment, underemployment, homelessness, and reductions in government and non-profit social services.

Further police staffing or budget cuts do not seem to be in the public interest for San Jose’s residents or businesses, especially during a recession. These cuts should not be imposed in the 2009-2010 budget without asking city administration to clearly answer two questions for the City Council and residents:

1. Why have San Jose’s overall and property crime rates increased since 2005 police staff and budget cuts?

2. If proposed reductions to police staffing occur in the next round of budget cuts, what effective actions will be taken during this recession to prevent potentially increased crime rates?

P.S. Thanks for your thoughtful questions on last week's open thread. I will look to answer many of them over the coming weeks.

To Pledge or Not to Pledge

We thought we’d give you another update on the status of the pledge we asked your Councilmembers to sign to recommit to making public safety their top priority.

The scorecard as of our last post: Mayor Reed and seven Councilmembers signed on; Councilmemer Oliverio abstained; and Councilmembers Herrera and Liccardo had not responded.

We’re happy to announce that Councilmember Herrera’s office called to let us know she will make signing the pledge one of her first acts when the Council returns from their Summer recess.

We also saw that Councilmember Oliverio mentioned the pledge in his blog on another website. He explained that he doesn’t sign pledges for interest groups because he doesn’t want to promise anything he may not be able to deliver.

I understand where he’s coming from. But an overwhelming majority of San Jose’s residents regularly list public safety as their top priority. Are the people of San Jose an interest group?

We’re only asking our leaders to reflect the support our public safety officers receive from the community. It’s a pledge of principle.

Later on in his blog, Pierluigi mentions that he’s already got his own public safety pledge posted on his city website. We went there and looked around but couldn’t find it. Maybe he’ll post a link in his blog today. We’ll let you know.

P.S. In case you were wondering, Councilmember Liccardo still has yet to respond.

Rushing to Judgment

By Bobby Lopez

I think President Obama got it right, just not right away.

Last week, he made some negative comments about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates by Cambridge Police. This week, Mr. Obama corrected himself, and he deserves credit for that.

Unless you’ve been on a desert island, you know Prof. Gates was apprehended at his home after Sgt. James Crowley and others responded to a reported break-in there. Prof. Gates refused to provide his identification, which is all the cops needed to see it was actually his house.

If Prof. Gates had simply shown the officers his driver’s license, he could have avoided this mess. Instead, he got angry and accused the cops of racial bias. (I can speak from personal experience this happens a lot – even when a Latino officer, like myself, questions a Latino citizen).

Mr. Obama got caught up in the moment and rushed to judgment without knowing all the facts. At a press conference, he said the officers “acted stupidly."

When I heard Mr. Obama’s statement, it was like deja vu. It reminded me of the reaction of our city leaders to recent news reports of arrest data.

Without waiting for a complete analysis of the facts, some city leaders looked at one set of numbers and decided we have a problem. In general, the City Council allowed itself to be intimidated by vocal activists pounding the podium.

They created a task force to examine the “problem” and had numerous council discussions on the topic. Finally, they brought in an independent group of academics to study the numbers.

As I’ve said before, we welcome any fair and unbiased study of our work. If the academics come back in a year’s time and clearly prove that we do have a problem, then I’ll be the first to admit it, right here on this blog.

But what if they don’t? What if the study finds that the men and women of SJPD acted professionally and fairly? Will our city leaders follow President Obama’s lead and admit a rush to judgment?

And will I get a beer out of it?

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

Cracking Down on Bogus Charities

By Jerry Brown

As part of a nationwide crackdown on fraudulent charities, my office recently filed eight lawsuits against 53 individuals, 17 telemarketers and 12 charities that "shamelessly exploited" people's generosity and squandered millions of dollars of donations intended to help police, firefighters and veterans.

These suits are intended to permanently stop the charities' deceptive practices and require the repayment of all funds raised under false pretenses. My office is seeking involuntary dissolution of eight of the charities.

These individuals shamelessly exploited the goodwill of decent citizens trying to help police, firefighters and veterans. In point of fact, a shockingly small portion of donations went to those in need, while millions went to pay for aggressive telemarketing and bloated overhead - and in one case, to purchase a 30-foot sailboat.

These suits were filed in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission and 48 other states as part of a nationwide sweep called "Operation False Charity."

In California, just as in the other participating states, the so-called charities raised millions of dollars based on false claims that donors' contributions would benefit police, firefighters and veterans organizations. But in reality, these charities rarely benefit public safety personnel. And, in most cases, 85 percent to 90 percent of donations are used to pay the fees of for-profit telemarketing firms.

Last year, I launched an investigation into 12 of the worst offenders, resulting in the eight cases filed today in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Mateo counties. It is estimated that since 2005, hundreds of thousands of Californians have been deceived by the solicitation campaigns these charities and their fundraisers have conducted.

Here are tips to avoid being the victims of charity fraud:

- If you receive an unsolicited call asking for a donation, it is most likely from a paid telemarketer who may keep a substantial part of your donation as payment of fundraising fees.

- Recognize that the words 'veterans' or 'military families' in an organization's name don't necessarily mean that veterans or the families of active-duty personnel will benefit from your donation.

- Donate to charities with a track record and a history. Charities that spring up overnight may disappear just as quickly.

- If you have any doubt about whether you have made a pledge or a contribution, check your records. If you don=t remember making the donation or pledge, resist the pressure to give.

- Check out an organization before donating. Some phony charities use names, seals and logos that look or sound like those of respected, well-established organizations.

- Ask the soliciting charity or the paid fundraiser what percentage of your donation will go towards fundraising expenses and what percentage will go towards the charity's charitable purpose.

- Do not send or give cash donations. For security and tax record purposes, it is best to pay by check made payable to the charity.

- Ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution.

- Be wary of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. You never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

There are a number of resources to obtain information about a charity. My website is a good place to start.

Use the search feature to find out if a charity and its fundraiser are registered. Review the Attorney General's Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors for additional tips. Other sites that have valuable information include:

American Institute of Philanthropy
Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance
CharityNavigator
Federal Trade Commission

Jerry Brown is Attorney General of California.

Integrity

By Francisco J. Hernandez

How about truth, integrity and consistency in news reporting?

I’ve lived in San Jose for all 30 years of my life. Born, educated and employed in San Jose. I’ve enjoyed living here (with some ups and downs) and have no immediate plans to leave. In my 30 years, I’ve read thousands and thousands of San Jose Mercury News articles spanning the Knight-Ridder era to the brief McClatchy ownership to the current MediaNews (aka Bay Area News Group) ownership. There have been excellent news stories and stories about the news. Lately though I’ve noticed a lot more of the latter.

I don’t know what it is but over the last three years I’ve seen a rise in articles that are biased against San Jose police. While there have been officers “spotlighted” for their accomplishments on and off duty (one recent article was about two officers taking enforcement action 20,000 feet in the air), the majority of the stories have been negative (use of force, public intoxication, retirement benefits, etc). The overwhelming majority of negative stories are about racial profiling.

I find it insulting when people make racial accusations as soon as they are stopped. People never pause to think, “Why is this officer stopping me? Was I supposed to stop back there? Is my music too loud?” or maybe, “Is my tail light out… again? I thought I sent in my registration yesterday… Oh crap, here’s the envelope…” Nope, some people jump straight to the racial difference between us. I’ve heard the “You only stopped me ‘cause I’m (insert non-white race)!” rationale more than I care to say. (The fact that I’m Hispanic doesn’t seem to matter because, in their eyes, I’m no longer Hispanic once I put on the uniform.)

To those who have used that rationale or plan to continue using it, all I have to say is, “Oh really?” I guess it doesn’t matter that I was behind you when you ran that red light or rolled through that stop sign. Or that I could hear and feel your music from half a city block away. Or that I noticed your tail lights are out or your vehicle registration is expired. Or that I can see that you are driving an otherwise clean car that happens to have “limo-tint” on all windows. You insist that I stopped you only because you are (insert non-white race), even though I can’t see inside your car and was behind you the entire time. As I walk up to your car, I only know that there is one person (you, the driver) in the car. I don’t know who else is in there or if they have a gun pointed at my head since the windows are tinted.

I’ve been in law enforcement for seven and a half years with the first five and a half spent on patrol, and I can tell you that the San Jose Police Department employs a diverse group of officers. Our officers are Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, African-American, Middle Eastern. You name it, we have it, from Sergeants to Lieutenants, Captains to former Chiefs of Police. To say that SJPD is plagued with officers who enforce the law based solely on a person’s real or perceived ethnicity, as the Mercury News seems to suggest, is a complete insult. In this case, the Mercury News is also neglecting to acknowledge its own past reports.

In February 2007, the Mercury News published a front-page article about the perceived racial profiling behavior of the SJPD. The article was seven months in the making. What was the Mercury News’ conclusion? Its own reporters found no evidence of racial profiling by SJPD. NONE!

Don’t believe me? Here’s a word-for-word excerpt from the article:

“To move beyond the rhetoric, Mercury News Reporters fanned out across downtown on selected weekends during a seven-month-period, delving into the city’s nightlife from the perspectives of the police, clubs, and customers. In more than 100 hours on the streets, they did not witness racial profiling.”

- James Hohmann, Rodney Foo, Marian Liu and Leslie Griffy
San Jose Mercury News, February 17, 2007

So, what gives? Why does the Mercury News continue to publish stories about racist cops intimidating the public (i.e. minorities)? Why do they continue to suggest that the high number of minorities arrested by SJPD is a problem of racial profiling?

Apparently, the Mercury News has forgotten what its own people have seen (or in this case, not seen) with regards to the current accusations against the San Jose Police Department.

Francisco J. Hernandez is a San Jose Police Officer.

Ask Ed

Anyone who follows Protect San Jose knows Ed Rast is good with numbers, especially when it comes to public safety. In his regular Tuesday column, he's examined staffing imbalances between local agencies, wasteful spending at City Hall, and methods for modernizing the San Jose Police Department to save money and ensure the safety of our streets and neighborhoods.

Now, Ed wants to open up a dialogue with you, the reader. This is your chance to ask him all those questions that have been nagging at you...

What's the most wasteful spending project in San Jose?

What are the factors that determine "America's Safest Big City"?

Where do all these taxes and fees end up?

These are just a few examples. We encourage to post your own questions in the comments below.

Stay safe.

Syndicate content