Federal Report on San Diego Police: Mediocre on Criticism – Light on Sanctions

by on March 18, 2015 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, Media, Politics, San Diego

San Diego police report Cover March015DOJ Report Fails to Address Racial Profiling by San Diego Cops

A Federal report on the San Diego Police Department was just released Tuesday, March 17th, taking the Department to task on a lack of accountability for officer misconduct and a lack of adequate supervision of officers, while making 40 recommendations for improvement.

But significantly, the Department of Justice report does not address the serious claims that other recent reports have made about how the San Diego Police Department in fact practices racial profiling in its stops and searches of motorists, as well as in its shootings of civilians.

Overall, then, the Federal report is mediocre in its criticisms of the Department and light on its sanctions. No one person or officer is brought to account. No one is punished. No heads are rolling. The officer misconduct is not much more than a few bad apples tarring the reputation of a great, even “progressive” police department.

Disclaimer: we have yet to read the 85 page document and must rely on the different San Diego media reports on the Federal Audit, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and requested by out-going Police Chief Lansdowne, in-coming Chief Zimmerman and Mayor Faulconer about a year ago.

The Voice of San Diego stated that “the police weren’t doing a good job of policing themselves.”

The U-T report reassures us quickly that the resolution of the problems cited by the study’s authors are:

“… 40 recommendations on improving recruitment and officer supervision and ways to quickly identify problem officers and bolster community connections.”

It cites a lack of leadership and leads off with a quote from the report itself:

“Perhaps the most important lesson learned from this assessment is that the failure of the department’s leaders to adequately address smaller problems led to much larger issues.”

We’re also reassured that Chief Zimmerman has already implemented many of the recommendations.

 10News reported that the review found a failure of leadership at many levels of the Department, and cited that:

The report found gaps in policies and practices in regard to handling misconduct investigations, a lack of consistency and often a failure to hold people accountable.

 While Tony Perry, San Diego’s stringer for the LA Times, states:

Failures in the hiring and supervision of San Diego police led to a series of misconduct cases but the Police Department remains “progressive, sound and very effective,” according to the conclusion of a federal review released Tuesday.

Many of the department’s problems can be traced to the city’s ongoing financial problems that led to inadequate supervision and poor communication between various levels of command, said Ronald Davis, director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

For example, the report said, in many cases a sergeant will see an officer under his command only once a week.  … The recommendations include more rigorous background checks of police applicants, a consistent hiring process, more openness with community groups, a quicker and more in-depth review of citizen complaints, and better supervision of officers by sergeants and lieutenants.

Predictably, the U-T report was very upbeat, with positive statements such as City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s response, who called the report “blueprint for reform”, and who also it appears believes it’s just a bunch of bad apples. Goldsmith told the U-T:

“We’ve seen the evidence, we’ve seen the ugly and we’ve also seen that it’s just a few officers but somehow they slipped through the system.”

 It took the more distantly-published LA Times to actually quote some critics. Tony Perry discusses a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, who told him that while the recommendations appear good, the study was “too narrow to be a real comprehensive review of the department.” Perry adds:

ACLU attorney Kellen Russoniello said the report’s “failure to address broader issues such as racial bias in policing is inexplicable” in the aftermath of the incidents in New York and Ferguson, Mo. He noted that a recent study of traffic stops in San Diego showed that black and Latino drivers are stopped, and searched, in high percentages – but that that issue is not addressed in the report.

Local officials asked for the audit after a series of a dozen and half or so cases of officer misconduct, lawsuits, and trials of officers over a few years, during Chief Lansdowne’s tenure at the helm.  The report stated:

“On a broad level, [researchers] did not identify any particular policy failure or common underlying factor that tied the misconduct cases together. Rather, it was gaps in policies and practices, a lack of consistent supervision at many levels and a failure to hold personnel accountable that allowed misconduct to occur and go undetected for some time.”

 VOSD found key “take-aways” from the report:

Officers didn’t have adequate supervision and began gaming the system. Zimmerman’s predecessor, former Chief William Lansdowne, rarely raised any red flags about how years of tight city budgets were affecting the department.

Some cops figured out how to use these gaps to escape detection.

Complaints slipped through the cracks. Police accountability experts and attorneys have criticized SDPD for failing to take citizen complaints seriously.

SDPD didn’t hold officers accountable.  Misconduct within the department was hidden because cops weren’t held responsible for their behavior, the report found.

The Voice article also zeroed in on what’s called a “public service inquiry”.

The department created the public service inquiry in 2008 as an alternative to deal with less serious complaints in the field. It allowed an officer’s supervisor to resolve a minor complaint without any formal investigation.

The process, the report said, “creates several concerns, including an enormous amount of discretion on the part of the supervisor handling the complaint, the inability to track officer-specific [public service inquiries], and the lack of review by commanding officers.”

There also had been worries that department officials were using public service inquiries to shield officers from serious complaints. In 2010, the department initially classified a female detainee’s sexual assault claims against then-Officer Anthony Arevalos as a public service inquiry. That could have delayed her rape examination, which ended up being inconclusive. Arevalos wasn’t charged in that case and solicited sexual bribes from at least three other women while on duty until he was arrested in a different sexual assault case a year later.

Researchers recommended eliminating public service inquiries and funneling all complaints into a more formal investigative process.

It’s obvious that morale has been a problem on the force for years, and recently both Mayor Faulconer and Zimmerman talked about an agreement to raise pay levels for officers and other ways the City plans to recruit and retain them.

Yet, the failure of this report to address the history of racial profiling by the SDPD – a failure not addressed by the U-T or VOSD – fundamentally undercuts any weight that this survey carries.

Back in February, the SDPD released to the public statistics on traffic stops and searches for the year 2014. From January to December 2014, city police officers made 144,164 recorded traffic stops and searched 7,142 people. The numbers show that combined, Latino and African-American drivers made up 41.3% of the traffic stops and 63.5% of those searched, yet only account for a combined 32.5% of the local population.

Another law enforcement study on San Diego County police officers – including SDPD officers – found that police shootings of civilians included 55% of those shot were either Latino or African-American, while, again, combined the two ethnic groups only make up not even a third of the population.

Yet Chief Zimmerman says that this report is not accurate because San Diego receives a lot of visitors from Mexico.

Do we need another study on racial profiling, as some suggest?

Enough of studies! Let’s see some action on improvements on a police force that, although is underpaid, is committed to ending racial bias in all areas of conduct and is committed to ending all officer misconduct.

And lastly, will somebody please take some responsibility.


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