It’s Time for Some Changes at the San Diego Police Department

by on March 16, 2016 · 0 comments

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

police line taprBy Doug Porter

Will the City Council expand oversight of the San Diego Police Department? That’s the question being considered on Wednesday, March 23rd as a city council committee considers an amendment to the charter making the Community Review Board on Police Practices more transparent and accountable.

Evidence that there may be a problem with oversight keeps piling up. The ACLU and 26 other groups have called upon the Department of Justice for an investigation into the SDPD’s use of force when encountering people living with mental illness.

A preliminary report from an independent study following up on concerns of racial profiling by the SDPD was delayed for eight months so the information wouldn’t come out “piecemeal.”

Last year, a Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services report made 40 recommendations aimed at improving what it called inadequate supervision and poor communication within the department. This came after a series of sexual assault and harassment scandals, resulting in criminal prosecution and numerous lawsuits.

According to press accounts following release of the report, many of the changes suggested were either already made or in progress.

What we have seen for sure in San Diego has been an aggressive public relations campaign, featuring appearances by Chief Shelly Zimmerman at numerous community events.

Blues Behind the Blue Wall

Chief Zimmerman

Chief Zimmerman

Friday’s Union-Tribune featured an article on the department’s difficulties in retaining personnel. More officers continue to leave the SDPD than are being hired, despite an increase in benefits, according to Chief Shelly Zimmerman:

She said they are leaving for a variety of reasons, including pay, morale, workload and “the climate of what’s going on, the national dialog of what’s going on.”

“Many (news) stories across the country are painting police in a negative light,” Zimmerman said.

Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, agreed.

“It’s easy to say something negative about a police department,” Marvel said. “It’s harder to say what can be done. People are running around saying the cops are bad. Who wants to be a cop?”

No, Mr. Marvel, people aren’t running around saying cops are bad. They’re saying racism is bad. Police practices and individual officers behavior are a big part of that problem. And police are the point of most contact for people of color all-too-often, as other services are eliminated as part of the drowning of government phenomena.

From CNN, November, 2015:

A new poll by CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation gets to the heart of how prevalent these types of experiences are: 1 out of 5 African-Americans said they were treated unfairly because of their race in dealings with the police in the past 30 days. By comparison, only 3% of whites said they’d been treated unfairly, according to the poll.

While budget cuts locally have also affected police staffing levels, it’s reasonable to assume these cuts also enabled continuation of an entrenched attitude of ‘us against the world.’ That outlook provides a fertile breeding ground for mismanagement, cronyism, and a lack of accountability.

After all, if bad news about the PD gets out, maybe their pensions will be the next cut. (And, trust me, their pensions will be under fire when the time is right.)

County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department certainly has seen its share of bad publicity, told the UT “his agency has little trouble finding new hires to replace deputies who leave.”

Maybe There’s a Management Problem

SDPD BadgeA local attorney reports he’s been retained by a dozen-plus officers wanting to sue the SDPD over management malfeasance, claiming there’s “witch hunt” aimed at good cops.

Here’s Dan Gilleon’s response to the UT story, from Google Plus:

I’m sorry but this is complete garbage. Zimmerman is blaming the exodus of SDPD officers on some claimed national anti-Cop bias. Here’s the reality: in the last year, I have been retained by about 20 police officers, all wanting to sue the SDPD for Zimmerman’s conduct, e.g., her “witch hunt” against good cops, while she promotes her “yes men” regardless of any misconduct they’ve committed. Through the lawsuits we will try over the next two years, we will expose Zimmerman’s targeting and retaliation as the real reason we’re losing good cops. Mayor Faulconer should have looked for a qualified Chief of Police who could command respect. He didn’t. He chose his buddy instead. This is what happens.

One lawsuit claims an officer was fired after complaining about supervisors telling him to treat citizens who live in the northern parts of the city differently than those who live south of Interstate 8.

Another lawsuit claims an officer was discriminated against because she was pregnant.

A San Diego police sergeant filed suit alleging racial discrimination, following his complaint about the use of a racist cartoon in training classes.

Obviously, something is going on here.

But Wait! There’s More!

The [Black] Boogie Man Under the Bed

black-lives-matterThen there’s the intervention of the Police Officers Association in the District Nine City Council race, where the group has threatened a sub-rosa, Lincoln Club-style, negative campaign against a high-profile candidate, saying that individual is a supporter of [gasp!] Black Lives Matter.

Having watched the pronouncements on Fox News about BLM being a terrorist group or sponsoring violence against police officers, the SDPOA has apparently opted to buy into and spread this inaccurate and malicious narrative. This threat would be clearly aimed at influencing voters in the more white neighborhoods north of El Cajon Boulevard.

Make no mistake about it, I’ll be right here to call out any such campaigns as racist acts.

Police are entrusted with extraordinary power, which by its very nature is corruptive. Such power needs to be delegated with transparency and accountability.

Responding to a recent report showing a 13% increase in instances where force was used between 2014 and 2015 – with a sharp increase in the number of times an officer pulled a firearm on an individual, Rev. Shane Harris, president of the National Action Network San Diego chapter, noted:

“The problem is there has not been a strong internal affairs department,” Harris said, pointing out the city’s citizen’s review board is not considered independent by many in the public. “I think it scares people in society when you don’t have a transparent board.”

Let’s Change the Charter

Time to Build TrustIt’s my contention that there is a connection between the SDPD’s management/recruiting problems and instances where abuse of power is alleged.

We will never know for sure, because of the barriers existing between the department and our elected representatives. The confidentiality that started out as a necessary process to protect law enforcement has clearly become a tool for hiding and/or misconduct, misogyny and racism.

Putting up a referendum on amending the City Charter granting subpoena and investigative powers to San Diego’s Citizens Review Board on Police Practices is one small step needed to ensure that law enforcement is working for the public more than their self-interests.

Even the Union-Tribune editorial board agrees the public should weigh in on this matter:

…Critics say the current system is tied too closely to the police department because any investigations are conducted by the department’s internal affairs division, not the board itself, before a review. Meanwhile, supporters of the status quo maintain the panel operates independently and multiple investigations may be a waste of money.

It’s a complex issue, but it’s time for a greater debate in the city, where an overhaul requires a city charter change and a public vote. Why now? It seems doubtful that law enforcement will continue to receive the benefit of the doubt for long.

Activists with the Community Review Board on Police Practices are urging the public to attend the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee meeting at City Hall (202 C Street) on Wednesday, March 23 at 2pm.

At that meeting the Council Committee will be making a recommendation to the Charter Review Committee on how it should act on a reform ballot proposal when they meet on April 11th.

Be there.


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at our associated San Diego Free Press.


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