With San Jose on track for its highest homicide rate since the 1980s, community leaders demanded answers from law enforcement on Wednesday as the city's police chief tried to reassure the public that the Bay Area's biggest city is still one of its safest.
Hundreds of religious leaders and community members joined PACT, People Acting in Community Together, to call on police and city leaders at a packed meeting in a South San Jose church to save police officer jobs and enact reforms in the wake of the city's rising homicide rate.
With the city already having surpassed the total number of slayings from last year and more than 100 police officers on the verge of being laid off to help close a budget gap, the police also were seeking support from residents to help them solve crimes, imploring them to report crimes without fearing retribution.
Speaking to police Chief Chris Moore, Councilman Ash Kalra, Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman and others, PACT leaders read statements from anonymous South San Jose residents they claimed were too scared to talk in public because they did not want criminals to think of them as snitches.
"In the last three months, two people have been stabbed and one shot, all within two blocks of my home," one of the resident statements said. "This gave me a lot of fear, as I walk my daughter to school along (where the violence occurred). Many of us in the community feel unsafe, to the point of being terrorized."
PACT said more than 1,000 of the 2,700 South and East San Jose residents they recently surveyed do not report crimes to the police because they fear being deported, or do not think police would do anything. They also fear retaliation if they do call 911, saying sometimes it can be fatal.
"Residents fear for their safety and the safety of their families if they report crime," said group member Carlos Morante, of San Jose.
They asked for the Police Department to hire neighborhood liaisons and secure multicultural training for officers.
But Moore said the police department is now having officers patrol the same neighborhood for nine months before rotating, instead of six, and hope to extend that to a year. He said that should help build better bonds between officers and the community.
"You need to have the entire group, all officers, as community" liaisons, Moore said.
He noted a national expert on nonbiased policing recently trained San Jose's command staff and called the department's gang task force a national model used by other big cities.
Residents implored the officials to save police officer jobs and launch programs like having officers go door-to-door with business cards. But Moore said the department needs to focus on getting smarter during lean times.
Police staffing is a politically charged issue, with the department having seen its ranks shrink by a few hundred officers to about 1,220 in the past five years through attrition. But for the first time, about 120 officers face layoffs. If the police union rejects proposed cuts, another 150 officers would lose their jobs.
At the same time, San Jose has seen 25 homicides in the city this year as of Wednesday, up from 20 all of last year, which was the lowest in a decade.
At this rate, the city would see 58 homicides by the end of the year, which would be the highest since the 1980s. San Jose, long considered one of the safest big cities in the country, has seen its annual homicide count range from 20 to 33 since 1998.
The homicide tally was a major topic at the meeting, which consisted of prepared remarks from PACT leaders, with audience members unable to provide input or ask questions.
The group said some residents were "afraid to live in their own neighborhood." Still, the city's per-capita murder rate is still very low among large cities.
This year, San Jose has seen fewer killings than much smaller Oakland and has about the same as smaller San Francisco.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.
The number of homicides San Jose has had so far this year.
Number of homicides expected this year if the current rate continues