Robert Salonga | San Jose Mercury News| Link to Article
SJPD hosted Sunday service with church at forefront of city’s police accountability movement
SAN JOSE — In a show of unity between law enforcement and residents at the forefront of the city’s police-accountability movement, the San Jose Police Department hosted a Sunday service with the Emmanuel Baptist Church to bolster a vital community lifeline.
Well over 100 combined congregants and police officers gathered at the SJPD substation in South San Jose with the aim of promoting civility and a running dialogue amid a local and national backdrop of elevated scrutiny of police violence.
“It was symbolic for us to invite Emmanuel Baptist and for them to accept that invitation,” police Chief Eddie Garcia said. “We’ve been working on it for a few months.”
Pastor Jason Reynolds said his congregation appreciated the gesture, and that he was particularly touched by reciprocal prayers by Garcia for the community and by Reynolds for the police.
“Sunday was another one of those times that adds to bridge building,” Reynolds said.
It was a notable contrast to one of the most recent meetings between the city’s police and community activists critical of officers’ use of force. At a meeting in late September with People Acting in Community Together, a faith-based coalition focused on addressing police use of force and misconduct, police brass and rank-and-file officers endured a steady stream of criticisms and admonishments for violent officer-involved incidents in the city.
During that meeting, community advocates zeroed in on an elevated rate of police shootings in San Jose over the past three years and questioned whether deadly force was necessary. Separately, the police union and rank-and-file have criticized a national discourse they say diminishes the dangers that officers face on the street, highlighted by the deaths of dozens of police officers in the line of duty across the country over that same period.
Garcia said that experience was part of the job for his department, but that it also made the cohesion at Sunday’s event more meaningful.
“We’ve been part of difficult conversations. Those are necessary,” he said. “But we both wanted to have a space where we could stop and appreciate where we’re going together, and what we’ve accomplished so far.”
Among those accomplishments is a new SJPD policy that institutes additional scrutiny of officers’ use of force in the field, which was spurred in part by recommendations from community advocates and the Office of the Independent Police Auditor. In the past two years, the department has implemented mandatory training in implicit bias and procedural justice.
“There are things I think SJPD has done that are really good, and places where there can be improvement,” Reynolds said. “I believe faith has a great space to do this. Faith has a place at the table.”
He added: “And police can hold the community accountable. These types of relationships allow successful conversations to happen. It has to be like a balanced meal. Everything can’t be the dessert, everything can’t be the vegetables.”
Garcia said the Sunday service was one of the most positive community events he’s attended in his 26 years with San Jose police. He echoed Reynold’s idea of balance, saying he is willing to hear criticism as long as his officers get appreciation when it’s due.
“In a time where too many people are going into their corners, Pastor Jason and I wanted to show that groups don’t wish to be divided,” he said. “We can set an example of what bridge building can look like.”