Leaders discuss Hispanic drunk arrests

October 30, 2008 7:21:30 PM PDT
After a wave of negative press concerning an unduly high number of Hispanics being arrested for being drunk in public in San Jose, city officials and community members held a news conference today to discuss plans to work together to stop the problem.

Chair of La Raza Roundtable of California Victor Garza headed the proceedings and asked for a memorandum of understanding with San Jose to "develop an action plan to resolve issues of disproportionality and selective enforcement."

Recent numbers released by the San Jose Police Department show more than 4,600 people were arrested last year for being drunk in public, a far higher number than other cities around the state have. However, Police Chief Rob Davis said this is because many other cities have other ways of dealing with public intoxication.

Cities like San Diego, which like San Jose is considered a "safe big city," have sobering stations where residents who are found to be drunk in public can stay and sober up, according to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. Santa Clara County used to have such stations, but they were cut during budget cuts more than five years ago.

Now police only have the option to arrest someone, without the possibility of letting the person sober up and leave, causing San Jose to appear to have more arrests, Davis said. The department is going to look at models from other cities and try to find other ways to work with the problem, he added.

"We are open to new ideas ... to learning from other cities," Reed said at the conference. He added that the city council will be having a meeting focused entirely on the problem at hand in the next few weeks and that public safety is the number one priority of mayor and the City Council.

Davis said that when the data for San Jose's arrests of Hispanics are compared against other areas of the county and state the disparities are similar across cities and counties. However, he said just because it is the same many other places, does not mean that he is not concerned about the issue.

"Clearly if you compare the number of arrests to the city population," the numbers are disproportionate, Davis said, and the department will be analyzing data to try and determine what is the cause of the issue.

He also defended the department against charges of racial targeting.

"Officers aren't targeting people, they are responding to the behavior" that residents are exhibiting, and if that behavior is unacceptable they are then arrested, Davis said.

"We will not ignore the dangerously drunk; they will be dealt with," Reed said.

Because many of the drunk-in-public arrests have come from the downtown areas, Vice Mayor Dave Cortese said the City Council will be looking at the business model of the area to see if it is somehow affecting the number of arrests.

"The statistics we see are disproportionate, it's undeniable, it's a problem," Cortese said. "We're anxious to get to the bottom of the issue."

Garza said that La Raza is concerned with the growing number of arrests, as well as the overrepresentation of Latino youth in Juvenile Hall, and the use of excessive force against violent offenders and that he is looking forward to solving the issues.

"We are lucky to have a city that is willing to address these problems," he said. A public conference is being planned for sometime in January for members of the government, police and community to discuss the issues further.


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