Grand Jury on San Diego Police Review Board: Atmosphere Full of Pro-Police Prejudice, Fear and Intimidation

by on May 23, 2012 · 5 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, San Diego

San Diego police take control of plaza after storming Occupy San Diego encampment, arresting over 50 protesters in late October 2011. OSD activists later took their complaints to the Citizens Review Board - but with no results.

Police from Internal Affairs Unit Allowed into Closed Sessions and Bullied Dissenters

The report found that intimidation resulted in a high turnover rate of prospective board members, including many who were minorities.

By Kristina Davis / U-T San Diego / May 23, 2012

SAN DIEGO — The county grand jury investigating San Diego’s police citizen review board uncovered an atmosphere rife with “prejudice, fear and intimidation,” and determined that bullying and a lack of decorum impairs the board’s ability to be a true watchdog on police practices, according to a report released Tuesday.

The nine-page report cites a number of factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of the board, including a “weak” central leadership, the strong influence of police internal affairs investigators and a prejudiced appointment process for board members.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that the city is open to feedback and suggestions about ways to increase effectiveness. He said the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices is already addressing some of the concerns, including holding a meeting about decorum and re-opening the pool of prospective members to recruit diverse candidates.

“The CRB is a competent, hard working board with many diverse voices providing impartial oversight of investigations and responses to citizens’ complaints against officers,” Goldstone said.

Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said he supports the board and how the mayor’s office runs the program.

The board’s 23 volunteer civilians review citizens’ complaints against the San Diego Police Department. The mayor appoints new board members but only after the current board recommends them, allowing prejudice and personal bias into the process, the grand jury report says.

The board, established in 1988, typically reviews investigative reports already completed by the Police Department’s internal affairs unit and ultimately agrees or disagrees with the findings. The board is not authorized to conduct its own investigations nor does it have direct access to people making complaints, witnesses or officers involved in the cases.

The report depicts a confrontational working environment where intimidation, threats, yelling and cursing are routine.

Past and present board members who were interviewed for the report told the grand jury that internal affairs investigators would argue, lecture and sometimes bully board members leaning toward dissenting on cases. One person told the grand jury that if a member continued to disagree, that person was then branded as anti-police.

The report also found that internal affairs personnel are routinely allowed to attend closed session meetings in which the board’s findings are debated and rendered.

This practice may have started as early as 1993, when the board recommended allowing internal affairs investigators into a meeting to familiarize themselves with the process, according to a memo uncovered by the grand jury. It is now customary, the report states.

Wile the legality of allowing nonmembers in closed sessions may be argued, the report says the state Attorney General’s Office takes the position it generally should not happen.

Judith Litzenberger, an attorney who witnessed proceedings as a prospective member and then was appointed to the board, said Tuesday that she wrote a memo to the board in 2010 raising many of the grand jury’s same concerns.  She said the leadership decided not to address the issues then. In turn, she said, she was not reappointed, which rarely occurs.

“People who dissented on cases were the ones who received the biggest bullying,” Litzenberger recalled. “Those folks were definitely treated differently than other board members. They were kept from leadership, and that became the issue how leadership became one-sided and immune from any accountability.”

The report found that intimidation resulted in a high turnover rate of prospective board members, including many who were minorities.

Jim Kaese, the review board’s acting chairman, said before the start of the panel’s monthly meeting Tuesday that the main reason prospective members drop out is because of the amount of work and time involved — not intimidation.

Kaese, editor of a travel website and a former trial lawyer, also questioned the thoroughness of the grand jury’s investigation.

“This is supposed to be an objective finding of fact to make helpful recommendations. Making accusations not grounded in fact is a disservice to them, the Citizens’ Review Board and the citizens of San Diego,” he said. “We have a lot of good people who do a lot of good work. That said, there’s always room for improvement.”

But Litzenberger, who said she doesn’t “think our cops are bad” and voted with them “90 percent of the time,” lauded the grand jury for spotlighting the criticisms of the review board.

“I’m happy the citizens of San Diego have the opportunity to improve their process,” she said.

By law, Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith must respond to the grand jury’s report in writing within 90 days.

Grand jury recommendations

To improve San Diego’s Citizens’ Review Board, the county grand jury recommends the mayor:

• Prohibit internal affairs investigators from attending the board’s closed session meetings.

• Instruct the police chief to ensure internal affairs stops interfering with the case review process.

• Select an independent team to investigate current board leadership and determine if it should be changed.

• Establish an independent interview committee to choose future board members.

• Reduce term limits from eight to four consecutive years.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John F May 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm

CRB Response from press release:

The SDPD complaint process works and citizens should continue to use it. In just the last three CRB meetings there have been at least 13 sustained complaint allegations against SDPD officers. Over the years, the CRB has been instrumental in helping shape and modify police policy with very recent accomplishments of changing SDPD vehicle towing procedures—making it less likely for citizens to have their car towed during traffic citations and arrests—and influencing methods of counting money and property—establishing a more reliable and trustworthy process.

The CRB is proud that we have already begun taking action to address many of the issues raised by the Grand Jury on our own initiative, months prior to the issuance of this Report. A proactive, 4-hour, Saturday morning Special Meeting, addressed many similar issues and, more important, discussed solutions. Work on these issues—in addition to our 20+ hours of monthly case review efforts (all volunteer without pay)—continues in earnest on CRB bylaws, case review, meeting decorum, enhancing our diversity, as well as other important processes. As with any company or commission, improvements always can be made and the CRB welcomes legitimate criticism and logical solutions from all sources, including the Grand Jury.

However, our credibility and reputations called into question, the CRB cannot remain silent about a Grand Jury “investigation” that (1) is severely limited in scope, and (2) relies heavily upon accusatory conclusions not based in fact.

At no time was I asked to provide information to the Grand Jury, nor was the current CRB Chair, 2nd Vice Chair, nor past Chairs. I am not aware of any current CRB members (a total of 23) who appeared or were questioned. If the Grand Jury purports to conduct fair, impartial, and complete investigations, surely current members of a Board being investigated—at least a few—should be questioned, should they not?

Moreover, use of pejorative and conclusory terms such as “cronyism” and “prejudice” are significant accusations that deserve specific explanations and factual support. The Grand Jury fails to provide such detail. Without support based in fact, one would never allege that the San Diego County Grand Jury discriminates against women because 14 of its 19 members are men. Nor, without substantial facts, would one allege that the same Grand Jury is prejudiced against young people because 17 of its 19 members are retired workers.

Throughout the Report, other remarkable errors appear that demonstrate the Grand Jury’s misunderstanding of the CRB, its membership, and processes. To specify a few: A lack of time is the primary reason for member turnover not intimidation; a new committee was proactively formed 4+ years ago to broaden membership diversity; CRB teams often disagree with Internal Affairs during case review; the committee interviewing CRB applicants does not consist of only CRB members; and, probationary status has been applied to CRB members who violate conduct codes.

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avatar JMW May 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

John F., if you don’t mind …
What time span is covered by your last three meetings? At least 13 sustained complaints? What were they? What disciplinary measures were recommended and what recommendations were carried out? Any?
“… methods of counting money and property …” What does that mean? Would that be when police take possession of a citizen’s money and/or goods?
“… a more reliable and trustworthy process…” Meaning the previous process was unreliable and untrustworthy?
Towed cars? 20+ hours a month?
“… decorum, enhancing our diversity, … other important processes.” These phrases repeat statements which appear in the original post.
“… limited in scope, and … not based in fact.” Those criticisms are addressed by the following two paragraphs?
“… new committee formed 4+ years ago …” Hardly new. Diversity again? Seems like an ongoing problem. Do you have an opinion on why that is?
What can you do? What is outside the scope of your board?

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avatar Carl June 18, 2012 at 11:03 am

Jim Kaese, why aren’t you addressing the real issues here? People don’t care about towing procedures or money counting processes. They are concerned about the police being inside the board meetings. Surely you can understand that the mere presence of law enforcement intimidates people, no matter how the officer acts.

We are also concerned that this board has no subpoena power, no power to investigate or indict officers. We are concerned that no officer has been fired or had criminal charges brought against them as a result of the board’s findings.

We are concerned because we know, no police dept. is that perfect.

Even as you tout 13 procedural objections to IA findings, it remains clear that most of the cases you review have the same result as IA especially cases involving serious crimes like sexual abuse or murder. IA provides you with all of the information to review. How can you conclude anything other than small procedural missteps without the ability to independently vary IA’s story?

In the infamous case of Demetrius Dubose two witnesses on the street were inexplicably ruled ‘non-credible’ and their testimonies were deemed inadmissible. However, they both later appeared on a HBO special and said they heard the officers use racial slurs against Demetrius.

Now compare that to the testimonies of passengers in a van traveling on the opposite side of the street at approximately 30 mph. They were deemed credible and admissible. This police cover-up underscores the need for an independent investigative subpoena-powered board. That is the ONLY way to root out police crime.

The point of this board is not for board members to pat themselves on the back and offer a bunch of gobbledygook about policy and procedure.

The point is to serve the interests of the citizens of San Diego who have been victimized by police brutality. The point of the board is to serve as advocates for the citizens of San Diego who make claims of assault and criminal behavior against police officers.

The cozy collusion between the CRB and IA has to end immediately for the sake of the victims of police crime in San Diego.

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avatar Marisa June 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm

1992 eh? right around the time the SDPD started killing us with impunity.

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