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July 12-18, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Line of Inquiry

There's a reason Barbara Attard is called the Independent Police Auditor. She's able to ask questions that the San Jose Police Department's internal affairs unit might not be willing to tackle. Take an example from the annual report she released a few weeks ago: Last year, more than half of the total complaints made by citizens about police officers were shuffled to the "Inquiry" category. By its official definition, this section is meant for complaints that have been "immediately resolved to the satisfaction of the citizen" without requiring further investigation. Officers named in complaints-turned-inquiries get no mark on their records. But this benign classification gets shaky when it swells by 72 percent in one year, to more than double the number of formal complaints. Why the sharp increase? Attard says she hasn't figured out an answer to that yet, but she did take a closer look at all 203 cases that ended up as inquires. She found 84 that she believed should have been reclassified and further investigated. These cases, including allegations of officer misconduct, "are lost to the whole internal affairs procedure," Attard says. It's also unclear if citizens are truly satisfied. The IPA says she's heard intake officers ask callers, "Would you be satisfied if you talked to a sergeant?" If the response is positive, the investigation is dropped. "I don't think the caller understands what this means," Attard adds. In a recent presentation to the San Jose City Council, she also mentioned receiving reports from citizens who said they felt pressured by internal affairs not to make formal complaints. Police Chief Rob Davis wasn't available for comment at presstime, but he responded to Attard's report at the same City Council meeting. "We need to understand in the process of dealing with citizen complaints that there is also a side to this that we have to remember, and that is that the officers also need to feel that they have an objective process whereby if somebody makes a false complaint against them that there is a mechanism whereby they're protected from being singled out because of that false complaint," Davis told the council. "And several of these inquiries that have been made are clearly false complaints." What that has to do with the "inquiry" classification is anyone's guess; Attard says she's still trying to figure out the definition of the term. Sanjeev Bery, director of San Jose's ACLU chapter, offered another perspective: "Classifying complaints as inquiries makes the police department's record look better," he said. This benefit clearly isn't lost on Chief Davis—he recently told KCBS that he was very pleased with the IPA's report because it showed formal complaints had gone down.

Reed: No Sweat

In a time when San Jose's government is at its dirtiest, can famously straight-arrow Chuck Reed stay clean? He's not sweating it, even after the latest attempt to trip up Chuck. Here's what happened: A guy named Dale Warner stopped by the Metro office recently to inform us of a "situation" in Berryessa that he thought might mar the mayoral candidate's record. A branch of the Berryessa Citizens Advisory Council called the Planning and Land Use Committee holds its monthly meetings at a ReMax real estate office in Milpitas. As Warner points out, the group's purpose is to consider the communitywide impacts of proposed land developments, and he wonders if it can stay neutral while meeting in an environment owned by potential stakeholders in the developments being discussed. Warner was on the committee last year, but says he quit when the meetings moved to the Milpitas ReMax space because he "didn't want to be tagged with a scandal if one popped up. It just doesn't pass the smell test," he said. He showed us emails from a committee member who doubled as a ReMax real estate agent disclosing a possible conflict with one of his clients: a builder that had expressed interest in a housing development near Hostetter Road. Last November the committee discussed this same development, and, interestingly, Reed was there. BCAC leaders, however, don't think there's a problem. Secretary Ty Greaves wrote to a concerned committee member that the real estate agent's disclosure was "evidence of his integrity," and he would be excluded from decisions regarding the Hostetter development. As to meeting in the ReMax office, "The location is a place to meet and does not affect the discussion held or the actions recommended," says BCAC president Dale Osborn. So what does all of this have to do with Reed? Not much, it seems. The councilmember says he's not even a member of the land use committee (he belongs to the larger BCAC), although he attends meetings once in awhile to keep in touch with the community. He also doesn't see a conflict because the citizen's group is purely advisory; they basically help write letters to the City Council. "I think they're trying too hard on this one," he said of the conflict critics. And what of those who think they'll eventually get some dirt on Mr. Clean? "I don't spend time losing sleep over what these guys are trying to dream up."

Correction: We originally misidentified Dale Warner as Dale Osborn.

Tree, Tree Again

Residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains are angry about a new and supposedly improved logging operation slated for 1,000 acres on the Los Gatos Creek watershed. San Jose Water Company resubmitted its tree-razing plan last month after tinkering with the 400-plus-page document that had thousands of neighbors chopping mad about noisy logging trucks and helicopters disturbing the peace of their forested suburbia. Metro covered the citizen outcry and the issues stemming from this controversial logging plan last December ("Chopping Mad," MetroNews, Dec. 7). The community group Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL) says those same issues, including potential threats to fire safety and water quality, haven't been resolved by the modified plan that San Jose Water Company claims it "fine-tuned." In a flier sent to residents, the company says it completed a fire hazard assessment of the land to be logged, plans to reduce the height of debris left on the ground to 12 inches (the state allows for 30), and will implement a voluntary water quality monitoring program. "We are concerned about the health of our lands, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect and preserve them for future generations," the flier says. But Jodi Frediani, an environmental consultant for NAIL, isn't buying it. She says the plan still targets the largest trees, which create a canopy over the forest and help prevent fires. NAIL member Terry Clark also remains skeptical. "The new plan pays artificial lip service to the problem of fire safety," she said.

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