In San Diego and Elsewhere, Increasing Demands for Police Reform

by on December 10, 2015 · 2 comments

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

San diego police carsSDPD Union Contracts Under Scrutiny

By Doug Porter

Despite promises of increased transparency and action to prevent misconduct, the San Diego Police Department continues to draw criticism.

Law enforcement agencies around the country are under increasing scrutiny, as reports about use of excessive force, sexual assault, and abuse of power surface. Here, I’ll take a look at recent developments both locally and nationally.

Taking things one step further, activists associated with Black Lives Matter have broadened their Campaign Zero to include researching police union-negotiated labor agreements in many jurisdictions with the aim of flagging provisions delaying the interrogation of officers being investigated for use of force and used in erasing documentation of abuse.

San Diego is one of the cities under scrutiny.

From Campaign Zero:

Our analysis discovered several clauses in police union contracts that exist as explicit barriers to police accountability, such as clauses that call for police union discipline files to be automatically destroyed and clauses that severely delay or limit any interrogations or investigations of officers.

Collective bargaining remains an important strategy for protecting the rights of workers. However, police unions have used their influence to undermine efforts to ensure accountability and to protect police officers who engage in unjustified & violent acts.

campaign zero police unionsAs Conor Friedersdorf, writing in the Atlantic, concludes:

There is an urgent need to reform such labor contracts. But police unions have more clout than conscience, and the fight to end provisions that prevent bad cops from being fired will be fierce, even though good cops are among the victims of the status quo: Many citizens have lost confidence in the profession in large part because of the perception that cops protect and serve problematic colleagues at the expense of the public.

Many individual cops don’t fit that stereotype. But the labor organizations that represent them do. Change from the inside would be optimal. Unfortunately, outsiders will likely have to fight for years—if not decades—to reform these contract provisions.

As bad as they are, the required effort is warranted. And the Campaign Zero wing of Black Lives Matter has again distinguished itself as a model of constructive activism.

Recently NBC7 News reported the claims of two former members of the city of San Diego’s watchdog over police behavior. They said officer misconduct is going unpunished and the agency’s effectiveness is “hamstrung by politics at City Hall.”

Police Cam Videos Don’t Mean Much in San Diego

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On Tuesday, the City Council authorized the purchase (with federal grant money) of 144 more body cameras for police officers. Unfortunately the actions recorded by those cameras (when officers remember to activate them), has been deemed unsuitable for oversight by order of the SDPD leadership.

Two failures to activate body cams have yielded promises of better policies and more training. If the SDPD’s record was spotless or even pretty good, this might be acceptable. But that’s hardly the case. Things were so bad the city allowed/requested after they had no choice a (fairly toothless) audit by a Justice Department contractor.

From the Washington Post:

This basically boils down to a policy of “just trust us.” But public mistrust of the police — some earned, some not — is one of the primary reasons police reformers advocate the use of body cameras. Citizen-shot video has now shown police to have lied or misstated the facts in countless incidents, including a number of fatal shootings. It has tipped the scales, at least a little, away from blind deference to the police narrative. There has now been a questionable police shooting in San Diego. A witness has contradicted the officer’s account of the shooting. This would seem to be the ideal time to release the body camera footage. But the San Diego Police Department won’t budge.

Even footage from privately owned security cameras is verboten, according to SDPD Chief Shelly Zimmerman. Five local media organizations have gone to court, seeking the release of footage from a business near the location where San Diego Police Officer Neal Browder shot and killed Fridoon Rawshan Nehad back in April.

The officer was cleared of wrong-doing by the County District Attorney. An employee of the business testified that he viewed it 20 to 30 times before it was given to police and claimed the shooting was unprovoked.

Nehad’s family is suing, asking for $20 million. They maintain the SDPD shot an unarmed man and the department is covering it up by withholding surveillance video of the shooting.

From 10News:

The family of a man shot to death by a San Diego police officer earlier this year has filed a motion to change venue, saying that the San Diego County District Attorney’s media campaign has tainted the jury pool.

According to documents obtained by Team 10, the family requested the change because “the shooting happened there. But they can no longer get a fair trial in San Diego because a high-level, powerful, trusted public official, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, has gone out in the media and prejudiced the jury pool. The motion is based on actions by the popularly-elected chief prosecutor for San Diego County.”

The SDPD’s Community Policing Debacle

cpThe Union-Tribune ran a lengthy article a couple of weeks ago, highlighting the SDPD’s efforts to return to community policing, illustrating how they were now emphasizing prevention in addition to crime response.

The article confirmed an earlier report by Voice of San Diego asserting that earlier efforts at community policing were shunted aside by Mayor Sanders administration in response to budget crises during the great recession.

Present police chief Shelly Zimmerman wrote an op-ed responding to the story, calling out VOSD for the “bizarre conclusion that the San Diego Police Department had ‘moved away’ from community policing. She went on to say “This conclusion is fundamentally flawed and does not reflect reality.”

This rewrite of history, as far as I’m concerned, should be exhibit A in the case to be made that the current “reforms” aren’t anything more than window dressing. Our current police chief misspoke the facts before, and apparently is willing to do so again.

City Charter Changes Offer Opportunity for Reform of SDPD Oversight

NBC7 News quoted City Councilman Todd Gloria yesterday, saying he looked forward to reforming the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices (CRB) by way of changes to the city charter to be voted on in June 2016.

Gloria said San Diego County’s version of the board, the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) is more transparent and works better.

“Some of the things that have stood out to me was the ability to subpoena information and individuals have a more direct access to information,” Gloria said. “The county does that and they seem to be comfortable with it. We don’t have that at the city….”

…Gloria said the city council, working with the public and the SDPD, should make recommendations for changes to the board. He said he hopes to have those recommendations on the June 2016 ballot, where ultimately voters could vote to reform the system.

The CRB Reform Allies group is continuing to meet, hoping to have their ideas incorporated in the ballot measure.

A Lack of Data on Police Misconduct

America-s-deadliest-counties-for-police-killings-this-yearThere’s a lot going on nationally on police reform. The Guardian’s reporting on the Chicago Police Department, police use of deadly force nation-wide, and now a truly horrifying expose of law enforcement run amok in Kern County is hard hitting, giving lie to the “bad apple” or “Ferguson effect” being bandied about by police spokespersons.

Articles in this series have so far have examined fatalities and excessive force at the hands of law enforcement officers in Kern County, California, which has the highest per capita rate of officer-involved deaths anywhere in the US so far this year. But a Guardian investigation into the county’s two largest police departments also identified a string of sexual misconduct cases involving officers, and a pattern of secretive attempts to pay off victims with small sums of cash.

At least eight vulnerable victims were offered – and in some cases accepted – cash payoffs by the sheriff’s office shortly after the alleged abuse occurred. These payments, in some cases as low as $200, absolved the department of civil liability and were made without the presence of lawyers, according to a review of depositions, internal sheriff’s office memos and victims’ accounts. Lavis was one of two Kern County deputies convicted in the past five years for assaulting multiple women.

Meanwhile the police department in Bakersfield, Kern County’s biggest city, is facing allegations from a former female trainee officer that she was fired and placed on a national blacklist barring her from becoming a police officer elsewhere after complaining about sexual harassment from male officers.

Using different methodology, the Washington Post and Mother Jones are reporting on the use of deadly force by law enforcement.

The FBI has (finally) admitted its system for counting the number of deaths caused by police in the US is worthless and has announced plans for a new system that will publish a wider range of data, resembling that currently collected by the ongoing Guardian investigation.

From the Washington Post:

The FBI’s system for tracking fatal police shootings is a “travesty” and the agency will replace it by 2017, dramatically expanding the information it gathers on violent police encounters in the United States, a senior FBI official said Tuesday.

The new effort will go beyond tracking fatal shootings and, for the first time, track any incident in which an officer causes serious injury or death to civilians, including through the use of stun guns, pepper spray, and even fists and feet.

The Los Angeles Times reports today on a a group of Harvard University researchers calling for police related fatalities to reported by public health agencies.

“It is time that public health agencies exercise their ability to report to the public, in a timely manner, vital data on law-enforcement-related mortality that are critical to the well-being of communities and the body politic itself,” wrote the authors — Nancy Krieger, Jarvis T. Chen, Pamela D. Waterman, Mathew V. Kiang and Justin Feldman — all of Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health.

Adoption of the proposal would make official a death toll compiled by the British newspaper the Guardian, which reports an unofficial tally of 886 people in the United States who have been killed by police so far in 2015. By the paper’s accounting, 217 of those killed — roughly 25% — were African Americans, or nearly twice their representation (13.2%) in the U.S. population. Some 30% of the black Americans who were killed were thought to be unarmed at the time of their death, the Guardian reported.

Notes on Police In San Bernadino

San-BernardinoThe Los Angeles Times reviewed the performance of police officers during last week’s terrorist attack in San Bernadino and found much to admire.

San Bernardino officers quickly assembled a team that rushed in, ready to confront the shooters. The hunt for the killers was thorough and transparent. Even through a raging gun battle that left both suspects dead, the police stayed calm and kept residents safe and the public informed.

It was a display of professionalism that we ought to publicly applaud. It highlighted the importance of sound tactics and the value of history.

If police departments around the country took those elements more seriously, we might not have so many high-profile incidents in which tactical errors lead to civilian deaths, put officers at risk and diminish public confidence in law enforcement.

Stephen F. Hayes, reporting at the Weekly Standard, says conversations between law enforcement officials in the hours after the shootings call into question the oft-asserted official claim that neither of the attackers had aroused suspicion before the assault.

His claim is based on scanner traffic indicating that several officers believed that shooter Syed Farook had been the subject of an earlier investigation. My reading on it is that they believed or had reason to believe the Los Angeles Police Department has information on the suspect.

I dunno what to think, folks. I do know of a gaggle of conspiracy nuts who’ll have a field day with this. Just remember: conspiracy theories may have the effect of making you feel powerless, and that’s never a good thing.


This is Doug Porter’s daily column at San Diego Free Press, posted Dec. 9, 2015.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

bodysurferbob December 10, 2015 at 8:59 pm

sometimes i wish ob wasn’t connected to san diego. am embarrassed at the team of gerdames that you landlubbers have fielded for the city.


bodysurferbob December 10, 2015 at 8:59 pm

oh, and thanks mr porter for your wrapup. somebody’s got to do it – rahter you than me.


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