SJ nonprofit issues failing grades to city council for decisions on policing; new mayor responds

Sacred Heart is now using its report card to address what they say are the root causes behind that struggle.

Amanda del Castillo Image
Thursday, February 9, 2023
SJ nonprofit issues failing grades to city council on policing
San Jose's Sacret Heart Community Service says the city has failed in its policing, the grading reflected in this year's "City Council Report Card."

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area in terms of population, but has about half the officers as San Francisco. That's just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to things Sacred Heart Community Service says the city needs to fix when it comes to decisions on policing.

The nonprofit based in San Jose says City Council has failed. That grading is reflected in this year's "City Council Report Card" released earlier this week, with all but one councilmember who served under former Mayor Sam Liccardo receiving an F.

Senior organizer at Sacred Heart Derrick Sanderlin told ABC7 News, "We often times are emphasizing the police department, but all the other solutions that we want to see happen are going to have to happen by workers that are not sworn officers, who work for the city."

This is the second report card of its kind from the group that has long served those in need. Sacred Heart is now using its report card to address what they say are the root causes behind that struggle.

The report card grades elected officials on how they vote on a number of issues including housing, homelessness, immigration, and policing.

MORE: SJ mayor's proposal to reform police officer misconduct investigations met with backlash

Advocates at Sacred Heart are calling for more reform.

"Which specifically, we're talking about the Reimagine Public Safety solutions that came from people across the city," Sanderlin shared.

He said among their priorities is ending the criminalization of homelessness and investing in mental health response.

It's a matter new Mayor Matt Mahan agrees with.

"We need to do a better job of differentiating our response to different kinds of calls for help," the mayor said. "I think we all agree that when someone's having a mental health crisis, we may not need someone who's got a badge and a gun to be the first responder."

However, the mayor does not agree with Sacred Heart's assessment. Mahan too, receiving an F in his previous position as the District 10 councilman.

MORE: SJPD's legal, public credibility in question after recent reports of officer misconduct

For Mahan, the report card reflects "-" next to two bullet points on policing, including, "In 2022 took no action to pursue reform or re-imagining of policing and community safety." And "In 2021 voted to increase the police department budget."

"They argue that we have not implemented enough police reforms and I really think that's an unfair claim," Mahan said. "Between three different sources of recommendations, the Reimagining Public Safety committee, the Independent After Action Report on the George Floyd protests, and an independent review of use of force, the city has received over 500 recommendations.

He said city leaders have already implemented over 50% of those.

"We have about 113 left that we have not yet had the capacity to implement," he said, adding city council gave staff direction late last year to go back to the community to help prioritize those.

He also said the number one demand from residents is adequate police staffing to improve response times. It's a reality he believes should not be set up in opposition of community policing, proper oversight and accountability.

Mahan addressed his updated goals for getting more officers on the city's thinly staffed force during last week's inauguration address.

VIDEO: New SJ Mayor Mahan vows to get 'back to basics' during public inauguration

On Tuesday night, President Biden even addressed law enforcement and earned community trust. He spoke to ways to help them succeed in keeping the public safe.

"We have to do better. Give law enforcement the real training they need. Hold them to higher standards. Help them succeed in keeping us safe," the president said during his State of the Union Address. "We also need more first responders professionals to address the growing mental health, substance abuse challenges. More Resources to reduce violent crime and gun crime, more community intervention programs, more investment in housing, education and job training. All this to help prevent violence in the first place."

Sacred Heart's exec. director Poncho Guevara told ABC7 News, "Hearing the president say it's time for us to look at a more comprehensive solution to this, rather than the knee jerk responses that we've been doing forever and ever and ever... why are we doing the same things over and over again?"

"It's showing that we're not making any progress," he continued.

Guevara standing by Sacred Heart's assessment. He explained the report card is meant as a message to policy makers about the community's expectations.

MORE: Mayor Liccardo cracks down on misconduct of SJPD officers, calls for random drug, alcohol testing

Sanderlin told ABC7 News, "We really do think that this new city council still can make a very impactful change. But moving forward, we're done talking. We've had the conversations, we've had the discussions and reports, now it's time to get to those solutions."

Executive director Guevara said, "On the third anniversary of the 2020 uprisings, where people are saying, 'Enough is enough,' we need to be making some really serious transitions and changes in terms of how we address community safety and really putting at the center of these conversations, not just what we can do to improve public safety from a policing perspective, but what are the alternatives that we can actually look at, with the right professionals dealing with the types of issues that we're facing."

"There's no doubt that there are areas where we can continue to improve, nobody is satisfied," Mayor Mahan said. "But to rank it as an F, I think is really unfair."

ABC7 News will update this report to reflect any response from the San Jose Police Officers' Association.

For the full report card by Sacred Heart Community Service, visit here.

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