By Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press
News accounts concerning incidents of sexual assault by San Diego Police Department officers have finally reached critical mass. Chief of of Police William Lansdowne told UT-San Diego on Saturday the department has decided to seek an outside auditor “to take a hard look at how the department handles misconduct and how it can better weed out rogue cops.”
Incoming Mayor Kevin Faulconer issued a statement on Sunday declaring his intention of meeting with Lansdowne “in the coming days to discuss an independent audit as part of my broader goal of rebuilding the police department and ensuring we are recruiting and retaining the best officers to serve San Diegans.”
The recent arrest of Officer Christopher Hays, accused of inappropriately touching or forcing as many as seven women to perform sex acts, has tipped the scale to the point where this issue can no longer be ignored. It should be obvious by now that the SDPD has a problem with a well-studiedphenomenon known as “Driving While Female.”
Questions about police procedures have surfaced as a woman suing the city after being sexually assaulted in 2011 have neared a trial date. She’s the only one of a dozen women with grievances who have not settled out of court. Her attorneys have revealed a (now disowned) ploy to accuse the victim of bribing the convicted officer with her underwear and a scurrilous attempt to discredit the women by hiring a private investigator to videotape her daily activities.
The Woman Who Said “No”
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has labored mightily in the press to paint the litigant as a gold digger. What she really wants is what the local law enforcement establishment fears the most: an outsider look at their inner workings.
From Voice of San Diego:
The San Diego Police Department is incapable of taking care of its own problems at this point,” said Joseph Dicks, one of the lawyers for a woman known in court documents as Jane Doe.
Doe is a victim of former SDPD officer Anthony Arevalos, who is serving an eight-year sentence for soliciting sexual bribes from five women while on duty. Doe’s asking a federal court judge to order the independent monitor as part of her civil suit. The judge would determine the monitor’s specific terms and how long the arrangement would last.
Over the last 20 years, outside monitoring has become a go-to remedy to clean up troubled police departments. Typically, they’re installed when a department has problems with brutality or racial profiling. But they can oversee a department for any reason. The U.S. Department of Justice recently installed a monitor to supervise the police department and university police in Missoula, Mont., after allegations they failed to adequately investigate sexual assault complaints.
Now that a subsequent arrest has made papering over the issues at hand difficult, the SDPD is calling for an “audit.” Some time before the end of 2015 the City Council will be presented with a report -costing between eighty and two hundred thousand dollars- recommending cosmetic and procedural changes. Reports of aberrant behavior will be blamed on a few bad apples.
Left unchallenged will be the status quo and the systemic disorders extending upwards into the offices of elected officials charged with being legal advocates for the people. It’s my contention that this talk of an audit amounts to nothing more than another desperate ploy to keep “civilian” authorities out of the internal affairs at the SDPD.
Let me explain how this will end up being “much ado about nothing.”
The Fox Guarding the Henhouse
The UT-San Diego account of the SDPD’s troubles says Chief Lansdowne has already obtained permission from the City to seek bids from two groups — Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit organization, and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which operates under the U.S. Department of Justice.
Let’s take a look at these players. What you should notice is that they are all about police and not so much about “civilians.” This is not to say they don’t provide valuable services to law enforcement. What I’m saying that the (potential) victims of the patterns of the recently observed misconduct at the SDPD need an advocate in this process.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is, according their web site, a “police research organization and a provider of management services, technical assistance, and executive-level education to support law enforcement agencies.” Sounds good, right?
PERF’s membership is dominated by “chief executives of large and smaller police agencies in the United States and around the world; executives below the rank of chief; researchers and scholars; and others interested and involved in the criminal justice field.”
PERF made the papers back in the days of the Occupy movement when their computer systems were compromised by Anonymous hackers, following reports the organization was coordinating police responses in various cities around the country.
From the Anonymous press release following the hacking:
Do we really need to explain ourselves much here? PERF assisted in organizing and coordinating the recent raids on Occupy encampments nationwide in the United States. We couldn’t sit idle while we watched our brothers and sisters being beaten, gassed, and sent to hospitals for exercising fundamental rights and essential liberties that were bestowed on them by their Constitution.
PERF organized has had its hands in an assortment of law-making decisions over the past few years. From how to deal with immigration, homicide law, and even how to police on a nationwide scale, this “research forum” is the epitome of a paid, special interest police-body.
From the San Francisco Bay Guardian:
Speaking to Democracy Now! On November 17, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler acknowledged PERF’s coordination of a series of conference-call strategy sessions with big-city police chiefs. These calls were distinct from the widely reported national conference calls of major metropolitan mayors.
The coordination of political crackdowns on the Occupy movement has been conducted behind closed doors, with city officials and PERF refusing to say how many cities participated in the conference calls and the exact nature of the discussions. Reports of at least a dozen cities and some indication of as many as 40 accepting PERF advice and/or strategic documents include San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Portland, Oakland, Atlanta, and Washington DC.
An Obvious Conflict of Interest
The second group under consideration for the SDPD audit is the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). According to its web site, “[COPS] is the office of the U.S. Department of Justice that advances the practice of community policing in America’s state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. COPS does its work principally by sharing information and making grants to police departments around the United States.
While this description might sound encouraging, like many things in Washington, the moniker doesn’t always match up with the reality.
Currently, COPS is a partner with the DOJ, Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the FBI, in helping to establish Fusion Centers for the stated purpose of identifying possible terrorists and providing information to local and national Terrorist Screening Centers. One specific joint program, Building Communities Of Trust (BCOT), coordinates national security agencies, and state and local law enforcement agencies with community members who participate in aiding national security efforts and in recruiting additional community members of their choice.
Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) generated by this process are shared by over 18,000 law enforcement agencies around America, including the National Security Administration (NSA) and foreign governments, whether or not the activities are of a criminal or terrorist nature.
I cite this this description not intending to disparage the work of COPS in creating “Fusion Centers” (that’s a whole other debate). Rather, I ask you consider whether an office charged with liasoning intelligence and logistical resources can be expected to offer up systemic changes with one of its “partner” agencies.
Driving While Female: The Research
Over a decade ago Samuel Walker and Dawn Irlbeck of the Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska at Omaha published an extensive and well-footnoted study entitled: “Driving While Female”: A National Problem in Police Misconduct.
The city could save itself some money, by reading (and taking to heart) the problem of DWF as outlined in the report:
Just as they abuse their law enforcement power to stop drivers of color, police officers abuse their power to stop and harass women drivers. In other cases, the driver is guilty of an offense and the police officer takes advantage of her vulnerable legal status…
Second, a major part of the DWF problem is the failure of police departments to investigate allegations that come to their attention…
Third, as in the case of DWB [Driving While Black], DWF abuses continue because police departments tolerate them by failing to maintain an open and accessible citizen complaint system… These problems are compounded in DWF cases because the victims feel particularly traumatized or humiliated…
Fourth, DWF abuses continue because departments do not have policies and procedures that ensure close supervision and accountability of officers…
Fifth, DWF is often symptomatic of a pervasive sexist culture within a police department. This sexist culture manifests itself in several ways:
- employment discrimination against women, including the failure to promote women to supervisory positions;
- tolerance of sexual harassment within the department;
- a systematic failure to investigate domestic violence incidents where the alleged perpetrator is an officer in the department;
- inadequate policies regarding pregnancy and parental leave.
The Man With No Plan
The SDPD and associated agencies (I would include the City Attorney’s Office, the County District Attorney and, quite possibly, the US Attorney) believe they can wait six to eighteen months before taking steps to address this behavior.
Back in 2011 Chief Lansdowne unveiled a seven-point plan promising to address officer misconduct. He proposed to boost staffing in Internal Affairs, increase supervisor training, review the department policies on discipline and use of force, revamp the internal system for identifying at-risk cops, hold meetings with all officers and create a 24-hour confidential complaint hotline.
Note that none of those changes actually addressed changing the actual culture in the police department, a culture supportive of posters on the walls of male officers assigned to the sex crimes division of scantily clad women. Jokes about rohyphnol, better known as the date-rape drug, were also tolerated according to lawsuits (since settled) filed by female SDPD officers who claimed sexual harassment and retaliation.
It’s also worthwhile to note the assorted cases in recent years where complaints about misconduct have been passed over by prosecutors.
Only a outside monitor has any chance of parting the “Blue Curtain” that surrounds law enforcement in America’s Finest City. One need look no further than the indefensible activities of the City Attorney, who’s now asking for a gag order to silence his accusers, to understand just how badly this is needed.