Pledge Recap

One week ago on this blog, San Jose Police Officers' Association President Bobby Lopez posted a challenge he issued to Mayor Reed and the entire City Council. He asked that our city leaders sign a pledge to:

Return San Jose to the rank of “Safest Big City in America” within the next five years;

Support our officers by refraining from knee-jerk reactions to activist complaints, particularly from those who lack expertise; and

Involve more neighborhood leaders on committees and task forces regarding public safety.

We noted that not every member of the Council had signed or committed to sign the pledge. In the comments that followed Sgt. Lopez's post, our readers asked that we reveal the names of councilmembers who had not signed on. In the interest of sunshine and open government, we feel it's only fair to do so:

Signed pledge
Mayor Chuck Reed
Vice Mayor Judy Chirco
Councilmember Pete Constant
Councilmember Ash Kalra
Councilmember Kansen Chu
Councilmember Nora Campos
Councilmember Madison Nguyen
Councilmember Nancy Pyle

No response
Councilmember Sam Liccardo
Councilmember Rose Hererra

Other
Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio responded to our request to say that he does not sign pledges as a matter of principle.

NOTE: The Mayor and Council were contacted multiple times regarding the pledge after Sgt. Lopez hand delivered it at a City Council meeting.

We need your help!

By Jim Unland

In case you missed it, San Jose suffered its 17th homicide of the year on Wednesday night. With four killings so far in July, we’re on pace to match if not exceed San Jose’s rising homicide rates of the past few years. As you can see from this interactive map, none of our neighborhoods are immune from this horrible crime:

View in a larger map

I can only hope that if our city leaders had followed through on the staffing increases they’ve been promising for as long as I can remember, we might have been able to prevent more of these tragic deaths. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts and attrition, the San Jose Police Department has returned to 1998 personnel levels. In the meantime, the city’s population has grown by more than 140,000.

Despite being overtasked and understaffed, the men and women of the SJPD work as hard as they can to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. But we can’t do it alone. We rely on members of the community to help by providing us with tips and information that we can use to catch the criminals who prey upon our residents.

If you have information that could help us solve a crime, you don’t have to worry about retaliation from anyone involved. Just call the Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at (408) 947-STOP or submit an anonymous tip online by using this simple web form.

You can also visit the SJPD website for information on ongoing investigations and cold cases, many of which have been solved with help from the community.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

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.

Heroes Come in All Sizes

I’m always on the lookout for stories and tips to provide our residents with a better understanding of police work and the dangers we face every time we put on a badge.

Yesterday, I caught an article in the Fresno Bee that was so inspiring, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s about a Tuesday shootout involving Fresno County Deputy Sheriffs and a suspect wielding an AR-15 rifle. This is a wonderful example of peace officers, community members, and one brave K-9 coming together to protect our streets and neighborhoods.

Enjoy, and stay safe out there.

Bobby Lopez
President, San Jose Police Officers' Association

* * * * * * *

Heroism converges at Fresno Co. shooting

By Jim Guy and Paula Lloyd
Fresno Bee

July 14, 2009

Deputies quick to answer a call for help, a sheriff’s dog and two women on their way to work were hailed as heroes in a shooting Tuesday that left the gunman dead and two officers wounded.

The rifle-wielding gunman killed by Fresno County Sheriff’s SWAT team officers was identified as Jesus Serna, 32, of Fresno.

The incident began with a call reporting a man with a gun at a tire shop just south of Fresno. Sheriff Margaret Mims said Serna shot at the first two deputies to arrive, firing even before the deputies could get out of their cars.

Deputy George Ozburn was struck by bullet and glass fragments in his shoulder, arm and face. Ozburn never lost consciousness and directed other deputies to the shooting scene before he was taken to a hospital.

Deputy Mark Eaton was hit in the arm by glass fragments. He stayed on the scene to help with the investigation.

Mims praised two women who came to Ozburn’s aid moments after he was shot: “They stepped up. This was a dangerous situation. … They stopped the bleeding and helped him from going into shock.

“My gratitude is boundless."

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Mims described what happened at Jerry’s Tire Shop on Elm Avenue just south of North Avenue.

Just after 8 a.m., a shop employee reported a man he knew as “Chewy” was at the business with a gun. Initial reports said Serna went to the shop to confront a man he thought was having an affair with his wife, but Mims declined to discuss those details.

Serna used a semi-automatic rifle to fire at the driver’s side window of Ozburn’s marked patrol car and Eaton’s unmarked car.

“This incident happened so fast, the deputies didn’t have time to get out of their vehicles,” Mims said.

After Serna fired at the deputies, he drove about 50 yards away, crashed into a fence and ran into an area where wood pallets are stored.

Within minutes of the shooting, other deputies, Fresno and Clovis police and California Highway Patrol officers sped to the scene, some dressed in civilian clothing. Heavily armed officers carrying rifles and shotguns fanned out around the industrial area as the sheriff’s helicopter circled.

A deputy who arrived moments after the shooting helped Ozburn, who took cover behind a building wall, clutching his shoulder.

That’s when the women, Yvette Dader and Angelique Rocha, took over.

They said they had been driving to work. Dader said she is a home care worker who is interested in medicine.

“I applied direct pressure [to the wound],” Dader said. “We just tried to help as much as we could, which wasn’t much, because we were waiting for the ambulance

“I always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Corrected Rocha: “You weren’t in the wrong place."

Ozburn, 34 and a 12-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was taken to Community Regional Medical Center and released about 11:30 a.m., Mims said. Eaton, 41 and a 15-year veteran, was treated at the scene and released.

The Sheriff’s SWAT team was training Tuesday morning; less than an hour after the deputies were shot, the SWAT officers with Reno the sheriff’s dog and his handler, Deputy Robert Marean, were searching the storage area. They found Serna barricaded behind a pile of pallets and tires.

Deputies told Serna to come out, but he refused. Reno was “sent in to catch the bad guy and he was shot in the line of duty,” Mims said. The round hit Reno behind his left ear and exited through his face, she said. Reno survived but lost his left eye.

Deputies fired several shots at Serna, killing him.

Mims said Serna “didn’t care for his safety, he didn’t care for the deputy sheriff’s safety. He certainly didn’t care for the safety of the public. But he paid the price."

Mims said Serna has an arrest record for violent crimes, but declined to say what those crimes were.

National Night Out 2009

By Jim Cogan

The best weapon we have against crime in our City is each other. Community policing relies on community involvement. Whether it’s participating in Neighborhood Watch, joining a neighborhood association or simply picking up the paper when your neighbor is on vacation, San Jose’s neighborhoods offer many models of community involvement that make a difference in keeping us safe.

Normally, I encourage you to support my favorite community policing program, Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, but I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to participate in another valuable community policing event, National Night Out.

National Night Out is a crime and drug prevention event sponsored nationally by the National Association of Town Watch and co-sponsored locally by the San Jose Police Department. This year marks the 26th annual event, and over 34 million people across the country are expected to participate.

Tuesday evening, August 4, 2009, residents across the country will be taking back their streets. In my neighborhood, we are organizing an ice cream social in a park. A few of us have committed to distribute flyers inviting our neighbors to get together and meet each other. Other neighborhoods have barbeques or extravagant resource fairs, but we have chosen to keep it simple to ensure everyone the opportunity to talk and get to know each other.

Though ours will be a humble outing, we still expect our beat officers and perhaps some of the command staff to attend. We are an official National Night Out celebration and the police department makes every National Night Out event a priority. In fact, I first met San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis at a National Night Out event many years ago.

In order to ensure that the police knew about our event, I called the SJPD Community Services office at (408) 277-4133. They provided me with a lot of helpful information for making our flyers and put me on the list for police visits. They also referred me to this page on the SJPD website for more information.

I am really looking forward to the opportunity to meet my neighbors and talk about how we can improve our community. Please join me in making San Jose a little safer by getting involved and organizing your own National Night Out event on Tuesday evening August 4th.

Jim Cogan is President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.

San Jose's Understaffed Police Department, Part 2

By Ed Rast

Did you know that the San Jose Police Department ranks sixth out of Santa Clara County’s 11 largest cities in the number of sworn officers and civilian staff per 1000 residents?

Here’s how we stack up against the top five:

Palo Alto 2.55
Sunnyvale 2.18
Gilroy 2.01
Mountain View 1.96
Los Gatos 1.95
San Jose 1.86

The City of Santa Clara comes in a close seventh at 1.85. Note that total police staffing includes both sworn officers and civilian staff. For example, San Jose has 1.46 sworn officers and 0.40 staff per 1000 residents. Each city uses different ratios of officers to staff depending on local crime and budget situations, training and technology usage.

SJPD civilian staff makes up about 21.5% of the total force while many other local and large California cities maintain a staff that’s 25-40% of the force. San Jose has the lowest ratio of police staff per officer of any of the county’s 11 largest cities.

Our staff numbers are lower for a variety of reasons: consistent budget cuts since 2001; the failure to add staff over the past ten years to keep up with growth; and the decision to retain sworn officers in staff positions rather than reduce the number of sworn officers. It costs about $250,000 just to recruit and train every new sworn officer.

It has become very difficult for SJPD to recruit new officers while competing with smaller local agencies, but the problem isn’t just local. There is a growing shortage of about 7,000 police officers in agencies statewide. In addition, many older officers are scheduled to retire within the next five years. Reducing newly-trained officers (last in, first out) would only make San Jose’s future police shortage worse, likely resulting in increased crime rates.

San Jose’s overall crime rate in 2007 was 256.9 crimes per 100,000 residents. While one of the best rates among large cities with populations 500,000, this ranks us 13th out of the 15 cities in Santa Cara County.

Let’s go back to our list of large local cities with the highest police staffing levels and compare 2007 crime rates:

Palo Alto 153.5
Sunnyvale 138.4
Gilroy’s 340.0
Mountain View 186.8
Los Gatos 145.7
San Jose 256.9

You’ll notice that Gilroy’s crime rate is above the U.S. average of 320.9 while San Jose and other big cities in Santa Clara County are well below that average. This goes to show that staffing, while important, is not the only factor in crime prevention.

Higher youth populations, lower median income levels, less jobs per employment age resident (or underemployed residents), large geographical areas, and other factors contribute to increased crime rates.

In San Jose, community policing — including Neighborhood Watch and Neighborhood Action — has been reduced or discontinued. Specialized mounted, traffic and investigative units have been reduced, and overall police staffing is currently at 1998 levels despite a population surge of over 140,000 residents since then.

For FY 2009-2010, city administration proposed reductions to police funding and staffing for the eighth year in a row despite projected higher crime rates. Thankfully, the City Council did not approve the proposed reductions except that a planned 25 new officers were not included in the final budget.

Of course, adding staff is just a part of the solution here. Increased community policing and officer training, more officers assigned to investigative and detective duties (see Beat Cop’s blog from last week), and new technology for patrol and analysis can help to lower crime rates — especially for property crimes — and help offset some staff shortages.

In future articles, I’ll look at rates of various types of crime in San Jose and how increasing police staffing, technology and funding can prevent crime and help protect our streets and neighborhoods.

A Pledge for Public Safety

By Bobby Lopez

For decades, San Jose has had a top-notch police department and avoided the controversy over policing that is a routine occurrence in major American cities. But recently, San Jose has seen a seemingly endless string of negative stories regarding its police department. What’s different here is that the source of the controversy is not a bad cop on the beat or a rogue group of officers. Rather, the problem stems directly from weak administrative and political leadership at City Hall.

For example, the number of arrests made downtown, which some believe is excessive, is a result of administrative policy. The feuds between city leaders and the Task Force on Public Intoxication is a turf battle. The fiasco over the hiring of a new Independent Police Auditor is a political fight between the Mayor and Council.

These stories don’t accurately reflect the outstanding work of our cops on the street. Our officers are highly educated, well-trained, and reflect the communities we serve. We are respected by the vast majority of San Jose’s citizens, as is demonstrated in numerous City surveys, for the tremendous job we do with limited resources.

But negative stories caused by poor leadership have hurt officer morale and distracted us from our real goal: keeping San Jose’s streets and neighborhoods safe. So, in an effort to return our focus to what’s really important to the people of San Jose, I’ve asked our city leaders to pledge the following:

1. Return San Jose to the rank of “Safest Big City in America” within the next five years. We once enjoyed and bragged about this achievement. This goal can be met not just with more cops on the streets but also fully-funded libraries, more homework centers, and cleaner parks. All of these contribute to public safety by keeping our kids off the streets and out of gangs, thereby reducing violent crime, which was the major culprit in our recent drop from the top spot on the FBI list of Safest Big Cities.

2. Support our officers by refraining from knee-jerk reactions to activist complaints, particularly from those who lack expertise. If the experts from the Consortium on Police Leadership in Equity, who were hired by the City Council to review downtown arrests, are hesitant to pass judgment on one set of arrest data without further research to back it up, our elected officials should refrain from doing so as well. Yet we’ve consistently heard prejudicial statements about downtown arrests from the Mayor and City Council when vocal critics of our police force are in front of them.

3. Involve more neighborhood leaders on committees and task forces regarding public safety in addition to the regular cast of activists, who have many complaints when it comes to our police department. San Jose neighborhood leaders know best what the entire city wants from their police force, and should be heard as well.

In December, Mayor Reed was quoted in the Mercury News saying, “We like the bragging rights of being one of the safest big cities, and we're committed to getting back to No. 1.” Now, on behalf of the dedicated men and women of the San Jose Police Department, I’ve challenged the Mayor and City Council to re-commit to putting us back on top by signing this pledge.

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

EDITOR’S UPDATE:

As of this posting, Mayor Reed and all but two Councilmembers have committed to this pledge. One Councilmember refuses to sign pledges as a matter of principle, and another has yet to respond.

The Ultimate Price

In case anybody needed a reminder of just how stressful police work can be, I ran across an article in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times and wanted to share it with you.

Susan Clemmer was veteran detective with the LAPD. She was a stand-up cop, well-liked by co-workers, and always wore a smile. The other day, she put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. As of now, nobody knows why.

Of course, it isn’t hard for a fellow cop to imagine the emotions that must have bottled up inside Ms. Clemmer over almost 20 years on the force. Her death and the suicides of another 19 LAPD officers since 1998 are a stark reminder that this job doesn’t end when you hang up the uniform. The things we see and do on a day-to-day basis take a constant toll. In the backs of our minds, we all know that one day we may be asked to pay the ultimate price in the line of duty.

Police officers are some of the finest men and women around, and they chose public service They chose to serve and protect our streets and neighborhoods. They defend the peace and serenity that we enjoy, and they do it under difficult conditions, understaffed and sometimes feeling unappreciated.

I think everybody should take this opportunity to look at cops as human beings, not just blue uniforms in cars.

Stay safe, and have a great weekend.

Bobby Lopez
President, San Jose Police Officers' Association

* * * * * * *

LAPD mourns suicide of veteran narcotics detective
By Richard Winton and Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
July 8, 2009

Officers throughout the Los Angeles Police Department grieved Tuesday as news spread that a veteran detective had killed herself in the lobby of an L.A. County Sheriff's Department station Monday night.

Susan J. Clemmer, a well-regarded officer assigned to the LAPD's Gang and Narcotics Division, walked into the Santa Clarita sheriff's station about 9:15 p.m. and spoke to the sheriff's deputy at the front desk, according to sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore and LAPD officials.

Clemmer, 41, placed a box of personal items on the counter and asked to speak to a different deputy. After a brief conversation with a second deputy, when Clemmer was briefly left unattended, staffers heard a gunshot and rushed out to find her with a single gunshot wound in her head, police said.

No one else was injured.

What Clemmer said to the deputies, and whether she identified herself as a police officer, remained unclear Tuesday.

The death of the 19-year LAPD veteran left officers throughout the tightknit department stunned.

"We're in shock. It came as a complete surprise," said Capt. Kevin McCarthy, one of the commanders of Clemmer's unit. "She was always smiling and easy to work with. There was no indication that anything was wrong."

Clemmer, McCarthy said, had sent a text message to another detective in the unit saying she looked forward to seeing him at work later in the week.

Clemmer joined the narcotics unit about a decade ago and for the last several years was assigned to a squad that worked with the U.S. Postal Service on cases involving drugs sent through the mail, according to McCarthy.

He praised her as a solid officer.

Soon after joining the LAPD, Clemmer was thrust into the spotlight as a crucial witness for the defense in the Rodney King beating trials of the early 1990s.

She told jurors in a federal civil rights trial that King had laughed about the beating he got from several LAPD officers after a traffic stop and said King had spit blood on her during the ambulance ride to the hospital. She also testified that she had spoken to one of the accused officers moments after the beating and that he appeared frightened by the confrontation.

Clemmer's testimony was central to bolstering the officers' defense that they had been frightened by King and acted out of concern for their safety. She took the stand after an expert witness for the defense testified that King's behavior, as described by the defendants, was consistent with PCP intoxication.

Two officers were eventually convicted in the federal civil rights case. Clemmer gave substantially the same testimony in the officers' state trial, which ended in acquittals and sparked deadly riots in Los Angeles.

Between 1998 and 2007, 19 LAPD officers committed suicide, according to a department study released last year.

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