Creation of the IPA
The Office of the Independent Police Auditor was established by the San José City Council in 1993 with the enactment of a city ordinance codified in the San José Municipal Code. Thereafter, on November 6, 1996, the voters of San José amended the City Charter to establish the Office of the Independent Police Auditor as a permanent arm of city government. (Please see Appendix A for Municipal Code section 8.04.010 and City Charter section 809.) In the 24 years that the IPA office has existed, there have been six Independent Police Auditors: Teresa Guerrero-Daley (1994-2005); Barbara J. Attard (2005-2008); Shivaun Nurre, Interim IPA (2009-2010); Judge LaDoris Cordell (Ret.) (2010-2015); Shivaun Nurre, Interim IPA (2015); Walter Katz (2016); Shivaun Nurre, Interim IPA (2017); and Aaron B. Zisser, the current IPA, appointed in October 2017.
Mission of the IPA
The mission of the Office of the Independent Police Auditor is four-fold: (1) to provide independent oversight of and instill confidence in the complaint process through objective review of police misconduct investigations; (2) to conduct outreach to the San José community; (3) to propose thoughtful policy recommendations to the San José Police Department; and (4) to strengthen the relationship between the San José Police Department and the community it serves.
Independence of the Police Auditor
Pursuant to San José Municipal Code section 8.04.020, the Independent Police Auditor shall, at all times, be totally independent such that requests for further investigations, recommendations and reports shall reflect the views of the Independent Police Auditor alone. No person shall attempt to undermine the independence of the Police Auditor in the performance of the duties and responsibilities set forth in San José Municipal Code section 8.04.020. (Please see Appendix A for Municipal Code section 8.04.020.)
Letter from the IPA
Dear San José Community
We routinely hear from community members: What is any of your work actually going to change? For me, as the new IPA – I started in October 2017 – this is the central question. Now helming an agency that is often criticized as being “toothless” to accomplish any real change, I have a background – as a former U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) civil rights attorney – that had allowed me to apply enormous resources, access, and authority to ensure broad-based systemic reforms in response to constitutional concerns.
Especially as a South Bay native, I am just as committed to furthering real change at SJPD, though civilian oversight simultaneously lacks the enforcement power and access of DOJ, on the one hand, and benefits from ongoing collaboration with SJPD, City leaders, and community stakeholders, on the other hand.
Transparency, accountability, and change at SJPD
The cliché about independent civilian oversight of police is that it seeks transparency and accountability. While those may be laudable ends in and of themselves, more is nonetheless required. Civil rights work does not end at exposing or identifying the problem – presenting and implementing solutions is the more challenging task.
Ultimately, transparency and accountability both serve as vehicles for substantive change in an agency. While disciplining an individual officer provides some measure of justice and can improve that officer’s conduct going forward, the police agency and its leadership should be identifying common issues among officers and making necessary changes to policy and training. And while transparency can win trust among community members, it can also provide tools for the public to advocate for improvements. After all, the IPA office audits Internal Affairs investigations and reports publicly at least every year, but we also issue policy recommendations, based on our own observations and what we learn from our community engagement, aimed at broader systemic change in police practices.
Of course, the IPA office has to work differently than the U.S. Department of Justice to accomplish needed reforms. There is more need for collaboration with the police department, but it must be, as I often say, “arm’s-length collaboration.” The San José Police Department is not an agency in constitutional crisis like the various agencies my DOJ colleagues and I tended to encounter. In some ways, SJPD is not only not in crisis but is in fact a leader in promoting community trust and policies directed at ensuring constitutional policing practices. As a native of the South Bay– born in San José and raised in Campbell – I am proud of the police department and the City’s commitment to meaningful oversight and reforms. It is incumbent on us at the IPA office to ask lots of questions of and listen closely to the in-house experts: the police officers and leadership.
Still, the job of the IPA office is to identify areas of concern or areas for improvement, communicate our concerns and those of the community, and work towards solutions. That means tough, uncomfortable, honest conversations with SJPD officials, City leaders, and community members. It means showing up at SJPD’s worst moments, while trying to acknowledge SJPD’s progress and successes.
Changes to IPA practices
In addition to bringing experience with scrutinizing government agencies, I worked most recently as a consultant for oversight agencies. So I also came into the IPA position with ideas about how to improve the IPA office’s own practices, always with the goal of making the IPA office as effective as possible at serving its aims of accountability, transparency, and substantive improvements in SJPD practices as they relate to ensuring constitutional and fair treatment of San José residents and visitors. Among the changes I have made are how we have structured and presented this annual report. I hope this new structure enhances the way we promote accountability, transparency, and actual change in police policies and practices.
Accountability: We are making sure we utilize all of the tools in our tool belt. While we always seek to exercise our authority respectfully, it is important that we use the full range of our authorities. This includes:
- Appealing any disagreements we end up having with IA about their investigations to the Chief of Police and any disagreements with the Chief of Police to the City Manager.
- Ensuring officer-involved shootings receive the attention and scrutiny they deserve, including responding to the scene for in-person SJPD briefings and conducting community outreach following an officer-involved shooting. Such attention is especially important in light of the impact of these incidents on San José families and the broader community and the extent to which SJPD’s investigations and our office’s auditing require confidentiality.
- Participating meaningfully and candidly in the ongoing conversation about how much oversight SJPD should be subject to with respect to the accountability process, including IA investigations of officer-involved shootings and investigations of possible officer misconduct that did not come to the attention of SJPD by way of a citizen complaint.
Transparency: We have also taken steps to strengthen our role in ensuring transparency by the SJPD. These steps include:
- Recommending additional IPA authorities that are in line with national best practices on broad access to records, including body-worn camera footage, as a means of conducting systemic reviews to identify trends and policy issues. We are also seeking a formalized role in reviewing proposed or draft SJPD policy changes.
- Modernizing and expanding our outreach with the goal of reaching more people and speaking to the issues that matter most to the community.
- Modernizing and restructuring our annual reports. This year’s annual Report will have a dedicated website that makes it much easier to navigate looks quite different from previous years’ reports. We have restructured the Report to address various substantive topic areas of interest to the community. The Report weaves in relevant case examples, data, and policy recommendations as they relate to each substantive topic.
Change: Which brings us to the final piece of the oversight process: the change itself. I hope this new approach to our reporting allows readers to better understand how the IPA office’s efforts, including the recent changes in our approach, moves the needle toward more and more constitutional and respectful policing.
Aaron B. Zisser