Key to Community Policing: Relationships

While agreeing that community policing can be defined as a partnership between police officers and residents, a panel of public safety experts and community members were not so certain about how to make those partnerships happen.

Hosted by the American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, “Creating a Safer San Jose: Community Policing” at the Roosevelt Community Center on November 29, was intended to begin the conversation that would bring San Jose police officers and a diverse community closer together.

“This is a springboard to a larger community conversation next year,” said Chris Block, CEO of American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, and event moderator.

The panelists included John Campbell, nationally recognized public safety expert; Chris Moore, San Jose’s acting police chief; Scott Seaman, Los Gatos Police Chief and former San Jose police officer; Richard Konda, executive director of Asian Law Allianc.; Carlos Morante, community leader with PACT; Gail Noble, photographer and community activist with Silicon Valley De-Bug; and Jose Salcido, senior police advisor on public safety in Mayor Chuck Reed’s office.

Guests also included Matt Hammer, executive director of PACT, and Raj Jayadev, executive director of Silicon Valley De-Bug.

A common thread throughout the panel presentations was that both sides of the partnership needed to develop strong and lasting relationships that are sometimes hampered by fear and misconceptions.

Many people in San Jose only see police when there is trouble, said Morante. Because police are rotated every six months, they don’t stay in a neighborhood long enough to build trust, he said. “Six months is not long enough.”

Community policing is a departure from traditional law enforcement systems, Campbell said. “It’s the police and community recognizing all the factors causing crime in this area,” he said. “What can we do to prevent crime, not just can we arrest someone.”

Racial profiling emerged late in the discussion, a controversial issue in San Jose’s Latino community, where residents feel they are unfairly targeted by police as suspects of crimes.

“The city has a hard time acknowledging that we do have discrimination,” Noble said. “If we can’t acknowledge it, how can we solve it?’’

Added Konda, “if we start at a place where there are ‘no problems’ then we aren’t at a very good place for moving forward.”
Whether racial profiling exists in any community is not easy to prove, Campbell said, but “can we all agree that there’s a problem? How do we bridge those gaps of how much is perception and how much is reality?”

Another issue of perception came from the audience. San Jose’s rating as the 4th safest big city in the U.S. doesn’t mean a lot to crime-ridden neighborhoods, said Jaime Alvarado, executive director of Somos Mayfair.

“A radical shift has to happen,” he said. “How do we work together to prevent crime from happening?”

One answer was to keep the conversation going.

“This is community policing,” Seaman said to the audience. “You are participating in it and enriching it.”