In this charged cultural environment, wherein the pandemic and recent protests have resulted in renewed demands for systemic change, Milpitas Police Chief Armando Corpuz has many thoughts to share. In an exclusive interview with The Milpitas Beat, Corpuz aired his thoughts on what’s happening in the world, and the ways in which he and the Milpitas Police Department are working to serve our community during a historic time.
On June 11, Chief Corpuz released a public letter about his feelings on the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer.
“When I wrote that letter, it was shortly after attending the protest, and I was hearing things from community members. I wanted to remind the community that we’re here with them,” said Corpuz. “I wanted to continue to strengthen the trust that we’ve had with this community, and not have it weakened by what happened 2,000 miles away.”
Then last week, a Milpitas Police Officer fatally shot a 19-year-old, who was allegedly coming toward them and wielding a knife. On Facebook, some in the community applauded the efforts of the Milpitas Police Department, while others criticized the outcome and demanded more information. “Did you have to shoot to kill?” read one comment.
Another commenter wrote: “Milpitas police needs to release the body cam video. With all that is going on in this country it’s in their best interest. I heard milpitas [sic] police does not want to conform with police reform well they better come up with a body cam video and release it to the public.”
Currently, an investigation into this incident is underway. When asked about the shooting, Chief Corpuz said that he wasn’t ready to answer any questions about it, as his answers might influence the investigation. He also said that the body cam footage will be released within the next couple of weeks.
Policies on Use of Force
Recently, the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, run by Campaign Zero, has been calling out all police departments across the country to reduce incidents that involve the use of force. They have a list of 8 items that they’re asking departments to make into policy so as to ensure radical transformative change. The idea is that through enacting policies that ensure reduced use of force by any given police department, lives will be saved. The 8 items are as follows:
Ban Chokeholds and Strangleholds
Require Warning Before Shooting
Require Exhaust all Alternatives Before Shooting
Duty to Intervene
Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles
Require Use of Force Continuum
Require Comprehensive Reporting
Currently, the 8cantwait website shows that the Milpitas Police Department has policies for 2 of the items: Duty to Intervene and Require Warning Before Shooting.
Back on June 15, 2020, Corpuz had prepared a Memorandum to share information and statistics on current police policies and plans for addressing community concerns. At that time, just a couple of weeks back, the Use of Force Statistics in Milpitas were as follows:
YEAR Use of Force Incidents
Use of Force is the effort made by police—whether through physical tactics, weapons, or chemical agents—to achieve compliance from a person who is initially unwilling to give it.
In studying Milpitas use of force cases over the past several years, Milpitas Police found that the individuals involved were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or “in a state of mental crisis.” Meanwhile, the Police Department attributes the reduction in use of force incidents to de-escalation training, which 90% of their patrol staff has received thus far.
Although Corpuz mentioned that the Milpitas Police Department currently has no standalone de-escalation policy, this also is a part of their training. And due to the community concern sparked by Floyd’s killing, Corpuz is currently working on writing a de-escalation policy, which he hopes to have completed in the next 30 days.
Going further back, to June 9, 2020, it was then when Corpuz suspended use of the Carotid Restraint, which is a controversial way of restraining a subject by restricting blood flow to the brain. In recent weeks, police departments in places like Long Beach, San Diego, and Contra Costa have banned the Carotid Restraint altogether.
Corpuz said that the Carotid Restraint is different from the chokehold, in which air is cut off by putting pressure on the front of the neck and throat. In the case of the Carotid Restraint, pressure is applied to the vascular veins to render a person unconscious. This technique will be reevaluated in the days to come, Corpuz explained.
“It’s accurate to say that we don’t have a policy against chokeholds but it’s our practice [not to do them]. But we are going to implement a policy against chokeholds,” Corpuz made clear.
In fact, Corpuz mentioned that the items that 8 Can’t Wait draws attention to have all been practiced by the Milpitas Police Department for years, even though not all of them have been formally made into policies. However, this is something that Corpuz is committed to evaluating, and he hopes to be presenting new policies for these items soon.
“We want to leave the community with the confidence that we’re aligned to best practices,” said Corpuz. “And that our practices are consistent with policy. We’ve been practicing all of these for years.”
Black Lives Matter March & Protest
On June 7, students from Milpitas High School organized a march and protest from their school to City Hall. Officers from the Milpitas Police Department were present for the historic event, ensuring that intersections were blocked and everyone was able to move safely through the streets.
The main organizer of the event—Nyla Choates, of My Roots are Rich—asked Corpuz if he would be a speaker. He agreed. And on the day of the event, the Chief got up to address the crowd. The majority of the audience listened to him speak, but a handful of individuals unleashed boos and jeers.
When asked how Corpuz felt about the negative reaction from some audience members, he replied, “Those are tough things to listen to; they’re not easy. But if you’re going to be in Police work, there are some difficult things that you’re going to have to work through. Definitely, being a Police Chief, you’re going to listen to some difficult things…”
Others in the crowd told the disruptive audience members to be quiet and let him speak.
“Right now, people are questioning their police departments, they’re questioning their policies…We were there because of what happened to George Floyd and other events throughout the country…People are reminded there have been some racial inequities,” said Corpuz. “And they want equality. We all want it. We want equality. I don’t think wanting equality and supporting your police departments that are doing a good job are mutually exclusive. I think you can do both at the same time. But I do believe emotions were raw. People are upset about what they’re seeing. And I’m never going to discount somebody’s feelings, when you see this almost 9-minute video of a man dying at the hands of a police officer who should have been there, protecting him… and to be clear, we’re [the Milpitas Police Department] upset about that, too. Not only was it wrong, it was inhumane.”
After the march, Chief Corpuz invited the young organizers to come to the Police Department for a meeting to discuss where things go from here.
“Our meeting was 2 hours. We had constructive dialogue,” said Corpuz. “I hope we can do that monthly. My hope is this is an ongoing conversation.”
Defund the Police
Many activists around the country feel strongly that defunding the police—taking funds from police budgets and allocating them toward mental health, homelessness, etc.—is the smart way to go moving forward. Corpuz isn’t opposed to the idea, but he feels that every community has a different situation and must be looked at uniquely so as to determine how funding gets dispersed. He brings up funding long-term solutions for homelessness as an example:
“Homelessness is not a law enforcement issue. It’s a social issue,” said the Chief. “When someone is camping in someone’s front yard, or doing something to negatively affect someone’s quality of life, or committing a crime and they happen to be homeless—and it happens on the weekend, or at 2 in the morning—we’re the ones called to work with those folks. But we don’t provide long-term solutions for that. I would support long-term solutions for homelessness. And long-term solutions for people suffering from mental health problems.”
He also added that it’s important for solutions to be evidence-based and data-driven in accordance with each community’s situation.
“It would be difficult for me to support blanket solutions across the state of California and across the County, since each community is so different and must establish what their priorities are. It’s up to local government to implement solutions that are best for those communities,” said Corpuz.
In the case of our community, Corpuz draws attention to the fact that the Milpitas Department is staffed lower than it has been since about 2001 due to that year’s recession. On top of that, the Great Recession in 2008 continued to keep staff numbers down. We currently have notably fewer police officers, dispatchers, and records clerks.
“What that means is if we don’t expand resources in personnel, we can’t expand services. If you take resources away from us, we reduce our services. And again, that would have to be part of the evaluation as changes are implemented,” said Corpuz.
Partnering with Community
One of the key ways forward, Chief Corpuz believes, is for the Milpitas Police Department to continue building trust and relationships with people in the community.
Corpuz, who grew up in the Sunnyhills neighborhood of Milpitas, feels a deep connection to the city. He has worked for the Milpitas Police Department for the past 29 years, starting as a Police Officer, and then moving on to become a Sergeant, Lieutenant, and then Captain. Since he assumed the role of Police Chief in 2018, he has also made time to teach 2 semesters of Introduction to the Administration of Justice at the San Jose City College Milpitas Extension on Escuela Boulevard.
Currently, the Milpitas Police Department is looking at ways in which they can build relationships with students across various community schools. Meanwhile, the Milpitas Police Department has had a School Resource Officer present at Milpitas High School, to serve as a resource for the school and students while working to create a safer environment for all.
The Police Department has also (pre-pandemic) been very active with holding community events, such as Coffee with a Cop or Public Safety Day. They also show up at school activities.
“I try to attend PTA meetings to connect with family at these meetings,” said Corpuz. “We often attend Burnett school events because we were invited. The message that I’ve given to PTA leaders is that if you invite us, we will do our best to come.”
He also added:
“We can never stop working towards providing the right type of service and building strong relationships and mutual understanding. We’re not going to stop working toward that. If anything, this [the unjust killing of Floyd] just gives us more passion to do it. And more reason to do it.”