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San Jose revamps police force investigations

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The San Jose Police Department has revamped its policy for investigating violent incidents involving officers, introducing four categories based on the severity of the force used as well as any injury it may have produced.

Under the new guidelines, use of force incidents will be broken down into four categories, with increasing scrutiny applied to investigating cases in which officers used more dangerous weapons or techniques to take a suspect into custody.

In theory, city officials say this will allow command level staff to identify any “red flags” in the investigation and determine whether further investigation by the department’s Internal Affairs unit is appropriate.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement:

“This new policy serves as the latest example of our collective commitment to ensuring that the San Jose Police Department remains a model for accountability and community trust.”

Use of force incidents that cause a minor injury or a complaint of pain are designated as Category I if the weapons or techniques used are not specifically listed in categories II, III or IV. Those incidents typically do not require the involvement of commanding officers.

Category II incidents involve the use of Taser stun guns, pepper spray or impact weapons like batons and projectile impact weapons like rubber bullets if the suspect was struck by fewer than five projectiles.

More serious use of force incidents, such as those where impact weapons are used to strike the suspect’s head, where carotid restraint chokeholds are applied, where four or more officers use force on the suspect, or when the level of force results in bone fracture, loss of consciousness or hospital admission — including dog bites from police K-9s — fall into Category III.

In the event of a Category II or Category III use of force incident, commanding officers are required to respond to the scene and ensure that the investigation is conducted in accordance with departmental policy.

Commanding officers may also require that supervisors submit documentation of the investigation for review by personnel at higher levels in the chain of command within seven days.

If that occurs, commanding officers will be required to complete a Command Review memorandum documenting his or her findings as to whether the use of force incident under investigation was in compliance with departmental policy.

Category IV incidents involve the use of deadly force. In that event, commanding officers are to ensure that the case is handled in accordance with the Santa Clara County Police Chiefs’ Association’s guidelines for officer-involved incidents.

Completed reviews will be submitted to the department’s Internal Affairs unit and logged as “official departmental correspondence,” but will not be placed in the officers’ internal affairs or personnel files unless a formal citizen complaint has been filed.

Under the previous policy, the department investigated all use of force incidents the same, regardless of the severity of force used. Last year, an annual report from Office of the Independent Police Auditor recommended that the department introduce a tiered system.

Independent Police Auditor Aaron Zisser said in a statement:

“I am encouraged that the policy change incorporates key elements of my office’s recommendations and represents a meaningful effort to modernize SJPD’s accountability procedures and ensure close review of serious uses of force. … I look forward to seeing how the new policy plays out and, along with Chief (Eddie) Garcia, examining whether further changes are needed.”

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