"Hey, policeman, stop arresting our drunks."
San Jose City Council to question police chief on drunkenness arrests
By Sean Webby
Article Launched: 10/23/2008 06:40:17 PM PDT
As community concerns mount, the mayor and city council members Thursday called for Police Chief Rob Davis to explain at a Nov. 18 council meeting
why San Jose police arrest more people on state public-intoxication charges than law enforcement anywhere else in California.
In the days since the Mercury News disclosed San Jose's vigorous use of intoxication laws, outrage has emerged among public officials and community groups. Leaders in the Latino community — some of whom gathered Wednesday evening to discuss the issue — are especially concerned about the paper's revelation that well over half of those arrested for being drunk in public are Hispanic.
Adopting a conciliatory tone Thursday, Davis told the Mercury News he is willing to "change the business model," though he provided few specifics.
"We understand the statistics are raising questions and concerns that need to be addressed,'' said Mayor Chuck Reed, who so far has been supportive of the police. "I don't think the statistics alone show a complete picture of how we deal with public intoxication.''
A Mercury News analysis of state statistics, published Sunday, found San Jose police arrest an average of more than a dozen people a day on the misdemeanor charge — a total of 4,661 in 2007 — and that 57 percent of them are Hispanics, even though San Jose's population is 32 percent Hispanic. The law allows police wide discretion to declare someone
drunk, because it requires no objective standard such as a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol reading.
The analysis also showed that many other municipalities send intoxicated people to jail or sobriety centers after which they are not prosecuted. In San Jose, most people are booked under the state law and must go to court. In the Thursday interview, Davis said he thinks sobriety centers are "a great idea." San Jose previously had such a center, but closed it in 2004.
'Not all about arrests'
"We're not all about arrests," Davis said. "Look, we've looked at the statistics and we understand why some people have questions and concerns. We are anxious to hear from them. And it will be an opportunity to discuss what our community can do to try to change the dynamic so that we don't have to arrest that number."
Still, Davis continues to say his force has used the public-drunkenness laws appropriately. He argues that San Jose has a different social scene downtown than in other cities, and that many of those arrested downtown for public drunkenness are from out of town. According to the police, 36 percent of all public-drunkenness arrests in San Jose occurred downtown, but the department has not yet produced figures showing how many of those involved residents of other cities.
Negative reaction to the statistics published by the Mercury News on Sunday has come pouring in from many quarters.
The Silicon Valley Democratic Latino Forum, the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley and a variety of other Latino community groups are calling for a full report from the chief on the issue and a public hearing where members of the community can share their perspective.
"I think Davis needs to look beyond and behind the numbers," said Esau Herrera, a lawyer and member of the Democratic Forum. "I've been to downtown establishments and most of the Latinos I see are young, professional, well-mannered and not engaging in illegal behavior. I don't doubt that some people are acting badly, but that doesn't explain why it is such a tremendously disproportionate number."
Andrea Flores Shelton, president of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, said, "The question I have is: Why just downtown? Why not Santana Row? Why do they not employ this same strategy in Los Gatos? Why are Milpitas police not outside of Buster's asking the question, 'Have you been drinking? Have you been drinking?'
"San Jose wants to be the safest city," she said. "But at what costs? And for whom?"
Dissent on the force
Even some police officers — most privately for fear of contradicting Davis — said they felt the law had flaws, was misused or the system needed to be changed.
"I think that it's a statute that we are likely to lose because it's overused," said one local law enforcement supervisor. "I see reform on the horizon."
In recent days, the chief has argued that some other California cities, such as Bakersfield, have more public-drunkenness arrests per capita than San Jose.
According to a Mercury News analysis, Bakersfield arrests about 6 people annually per 1,000 residents, whereas San Jose arrests 4.7 per thousand. But San Jose's totals for arrests under the state public-intoxication law far outstrip the state's other large cities: San Diego arrests 2.4 people per 1,000 residents and San Francisco arrests 1.5.
Mercury News Staff Writer Mike Swift contributed to this report.