SAN JOSE – Five scandals have come to light in the past couple of weeks involving San Jose police officers, and at a press conference on Wednesday, Chief Anthony Mata said he cannot guarantee there won't be more.
Mata, flanked by other department leaders and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, announced on Wednesday changes to department policy that will offer more oversight.
It comes after a series of embarrassing scandals involving SJPD officers, including a DUI crash, a fatal drug overdose, and an officer who touched himself while on duty.
"Why are these incidents happening? Why now? We're not entirely sure," Mata said during the press conference.
There appears to be no common thread between the five officers who have made headlines in recent weeks. Nonetheless, Mata said he is instituting a seven-point plan, that covers everything from background checks to a new app.
"You will not see excuses for inexcusable conduct. You will see action and the same determination this department has shown to prove itself," said Mata.
Starting immediately for new recruits, SJPD will interview more secondary references, going deeper into an applicant's past.
The department will also implement more random drug and alcohol screening. All supervisors will get retrained to better recognize mental health struggles, depression, and substance abuse. Supervisors who miss warning signs or red flags will be held accountable.
Mata said SJPD will be rolling out an app for officers who are not comfortable reaching out for help in person. Finally, there will be universal, department-wide wellness and mental health check-ins.
"These are human beings, and they're subject to all of the same stresses that anybody in the world is subject to. And then on top of that they're going through the additional stressors of becoming a police officer," said San Jose Assistant Police Chief Paul Joseph.
The chief is pushing for a new law to loosen the rules that would allow him to disclose details about officer misconduct.
"The only change we're proposing here is, in cases that are so serious like the ones we're talking about, where it's very obvious that a termination is going to occur, or a termination has in fact occurred, that should be something that the chief can talk about," said Joseph.
The department has hired more than 831 officers in the past seven years. More than half have less than five years of experience, while 75% have less than 10 years of experience.
Liccardo supports the 7-point plan, but said something in the recruiting process is broken.
"It's obvious that there's some failures that process. It's clear that there's a high standard. We need to look again at that standard and make sure that it's sufficiently high," said the mayor.
The San Jose Police Officers Association president, Sean Pritchard, released this statement responding to the Chief's plan: "We are supportive of any effort to improve hiring standards and background investigations of prospective officers. We must never lower our hiring standards and instead double down on attracting qualified cadets to enter our academy. We remain actively engaged with the City administration on several fronts at our contract negotiations to ensure San Jose residents are served by qualified, honorable and capable officers."
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