Councilmembers Ward, Cole and Zapf Block Effort to Place Police Review Reform on Nov. Ballot

by on August 6, 2018 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

While San Diego City Councilmembers Lorie Zapf and Chris Ward were reaping props and applause in Ocean Beach and other coastal neighborhoods due to their efforts to regulate short term vacation rentals, the toast-of-the-town duo had moved on other planes and joined the conservative members among their colleagues to wreck havoc and short circuit another popular effort. The effort to reform how police officers have civilian oversight.

Ward – maybe hoping to become the darling of San Diego liberals – what with his proposed ban on styrofoam – crashed and burned that plan. On Monday, July 30, at a Council hearing he joined other councilmembers to thwart an effort to place a measure on the November ballot which would have substantially improved civilian oversight of the San Diego Police Department.

Expected to vote to place the measure on the ballot because he had voted in committee to bring the reform forward to the full council, Ward – a Democrat – switched sides at the last minute and voted along with Lorie Zapf and the rest of the council’s Republicans (Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman) to squash the effort. The vote died due to a 4-4 tie.

Ward’s office made this statement about his break-in-ranks:

“Councilmember Ward supported this item at Rules Committee because it is important for the full City Council to hear the community’s concerns. After today’s discussion of the item, he did not feel it was realistic or even possible to accomplish what was before Council by the August 10th deadline.”

Currently – and in theory – the Community Review Board on Police Practices reviews investigations by the SDPD’s Internal Affairs division. Yet, it lacks the necessary power to subpoena witnesses or conduct its own investigations. This has reasonably and understandably led to accusations the board lacks independence. And this has resulted in a deep lack of trust by the community – especially communities of people of color -in the process how complaints against officers are reviewed.

There were other shenanigans at the council meeting, bringing Councilman David Alvarez to make accusations that someone in City Hall wanted to “delay” it.

Backing up a bit, we refer to the reporting by KPBS:

The activist group Women Occupy San Diego first proposed the ballot measure in February. It would have amended the city charter to abolish the existing Community Review Board on Police Practices and create a new independent commission with the power to conduct its own investigations into complaints of officer misconduct.

Then the City Council Rules Committee heard it in April. But at that meeting, the committee delayed further considerations of the ballot proposal until it had received feedback from the police union, the police chief and current review board members. Part of the vote by the Rules Committee was to bring the measure back up again during June.

And here are where accusations of delay directed at Council President Cole. She is the Rules Committee’s chair but for some reason did not place the item on the agenda until July. If it had proceeded as planned in June, there would have been plenty of time for all the feedback needed in order to get it on the ballot.

Yet another hitch occurred earlier in July when the City Attorney’s Office determined the ballot measure would require a “meet and confer” process with the unions who represent those city employee whose members could be affected by the measure.

And that was what was voted on and resulting in the tie. To move ahead with the meetings with the Police Officers Association and the Municipal Employees Union. It died. Thanks to Cole’s delaying tactics and thanks to Ward’s retreat on the issue.

The coalition of community and legal groups that support the reform were shocked at the process. In a statement, they added:

More shocking was the way the vote played out.  …Democratic City Councilman Chris Ward effectively killed the proposal by voting with Republicans not to put it on the ballot. The Council’s other Democrats, Myrtle Cole, Barbara Bry, David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez all voted in favor of sending the measure to the ballot.”

To be clear the specific item on the agenda wasn’t to put the Amendment on the ballot but to take an interim necessary step to put it on the ballot.

Additionally we were surprised to learn we had been moved to first on the agenda. We had been assured that our item would be last on the agenda and would certainly go late into the afternoon. Two members of our coalition arrived to find our item being discussed and up for a vote.

Anne Barron of Women Occupy arrived & quickly turned in a speakers slip. We were fortunate to have the ACLU join us and read a statement on behalf of the charter amendment. However, it seemed the deck was stacked and the plan was in motion.  Council Member Alvarez voiced surprise at the lack of supporters there, given the strong community support at important meetings up until then. This led to his suspicion of “games being played.” Additionally he noted that there seemed to be an “intent to delay” and he remarked that this was a “sour note to end on.”

Even the San Diego Union-Tribune blasted the process in an editorial:

In an interview on Tuesday, Ward said he voted as he did because city officials simply ran out of time to conduct the so-called “meet and confer” process with its police union before the council’s August deadline to place any measure on the November ballot.

But that just means the council should have gotten its act together earlier. Specifically, Council President Myrtle Cole should have docketed the item earlier, and City Attorney Mara Elliott should have advised the council about the process earlier.

What became embarrassingly clear at Monday’s council meeting is that someone at the city had, as Councilman David Alvarez labeled it, “an intent to delay this.”

The U-T editorial went further, giving voice to critics, itself criticizing the current commission and the city’s lack of urgency:

… the need for more reform has never been more clear. Andrea St. Julian, the president of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, which represents the interests of the local African-American legal field, said in April that “the community simply does not trust the current community oversight model for police practices.”

The editorial then quoted OB Rag /SDFP writer, Ernie McCray, who spent 37 years as a school educator and administrator:

 “Trying to build trust with the police in San Diego, for communities of color, has been like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. One with too many pieces — due to years of bad history.”

The U-T continued:

… about a third of the 23-member commission’s seats have been vacant for months. District 4, Cole’s district of primarily people of color, has no representative.

What a farce. Dragging your feet on issues of trust between the police and people of color in this day and age is a bad look, whether it’s slowly phasing in a proposal that 400,000-plus San Diegans supported in 2016 or failing to clear procedural hurdles to allow those same voters to weigh stronger reforms now.

Enabling independent investigations into police practices is something that is long overdue. You may not agree with us that the city is merely delaying the inevitable. But it’s clear the city is delaying.

Still more shenanigans on the day of the City Council meeting. As Doug Porter at San Diego Free Press describes:

Although reform advocates were told their opportunity to testify in support would come as the measure was considered at the end of the day’s agenda, it suddenly was moved to be first up. The lobbyist for the Police Officers Association must have known as he in the room.

By the time the bulk of those willing to testify in favor of the measure arrived, it was history, deep-sixed in a manner protecting the careers of those enablers who fear political retribution.

Anne Barron, a representative of Women Occupy San Diego, told KPBS she was frustrated “that Cole’s office had waited so long to bring the item to the full City Council for consideration, and that the City Attorney’s Office did not raise the meet and confer issue earlier.” She also said:

“We followed all the rules in bringing our proposed charter amendment to the City Council. We would have preferred that this had been dealt with right in the beginning in April.”  KPBS

We join Porter of SDFP in some more background and history:

Eighty-three percent of the public voted for Measure G in 2016, an almost unfathomable amount of agreement in an era where consensus is often difficult.

Myrtle Cole

Myrtle Cole

The amendment to the City Charter was considered to be a very watered down compromise by advocates. The Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices got a name change (changing Citizens’ to Community), and oversight from was broadened to include both the mayor and City Council.

The rest of what reformers wanted, namely subpoena power or the authority to hire independent legal counsel, was left on the table for another day.

It’s two years later and “another day” is here. Or at least it was until City Council President Myrtle Cole maneuvered to torpedo the vote to put a new measure on the ballot.

Even the San Diego U-T Editorial board supported Measure G. San Diego Union-Tribune

Two years ago, The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board urged city residents to support Measure G to empower a citizens board to review in-custody deaths and officer-related shootings. It passed in a landslide: 83 percent of the 487,000 San Diegans who voted on the measure agreed with us.

Measure G didn’t do a lot. … At the time, we wrote that the change was “some very weak tea” but a “small but important” step for a panel that previously only examined Internal Affairs investigations. Then, as now, almost everyone understood the difficulty of police officers’ jobs but many people wanted checks on lethal force.

  San Diego Union-Tribune

Where it all goes from here depends on the coalition that pushed this reform to this point. But definitely there’s fallout from what just transpired.

With the smoke cleared after the council vote 2 weeks ago, we saw how Councilman Ward employed the ol’ Gov. Jerry Brown attitude; ‘governing is like paddling a canoe; you paddle a little on the left, then you paddle a little on the right.’

Cole’s delaying tactics that also prevented the proposed ballot measure to get to November cannot help her in her tough and tight fight for re-election in District 4.

Zapf continues with accolades from her beach constituents while simultaneously joining her Republican co-horts to block grassroots efforts to put some muscle into how San Diego police are monitored by civilians. Or at least put it to a public vote.

What are Ward, Cole and Zapf afraid of? That the measure would have passed in November?

Afraid of what the people would have said? Like, more civilian oversight is needed after all these years of delay and manipulation.




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