By Doug Porter
Mayor elect Kevin Faulconer surprised San Diego yesterday by naming SDPD veteran Shelly Zimmerman as new chief of police. The surprise wasn’t his choice of Zimmerman, a well regarded veteran with 31 years of service in the department; it was how fast he moved to make the announcement.
As was the case with Chief Lansdowne’s retirement, the local media was filled with statements praising Zimmerman. Even the Reader’s Don Bauder, who regularly dishes up dirt on local politics, approved, saying Zimmerman was an ideal choice for a police department in trouble for its members’ sexual misdeeds.
Caught flatfooted by the announcement was iMayor Todd Gloria, who issued a statement praising Zimmerman and expressing disappointment with the process, saying:
“The selection of a police chief is one of the most important decisions a mayor can make. It was my hope that a national search would be performed that included significant community input in advance of this decision.”
Zimmerman will take over the SDPD effective Monday, the first day of Mayor Faulconer’s term. The City Council is expected to affirm the choice on Wednesday.
Not everybody was thrilled with Zimmerman’s rise to the top. NBC7 interviewed attorneys representing victims of SDPD ex-cop Anthony Arevalos who felt the hiring decision was done hastily.
They also interviewed victim Jane Doe, who said she’s thinking about leaving San Diego now that Arevalos faces less jail time, following a judicial order vacating two of the convictions against the ex-cop.
Part of her federal lawsuit against the city demands an outside monitor of the San Diego police procedures and policies.
She says the new chief should not come from inside the department.
“At this point, I don’t think it matters that she is female or male. There is so much that needs to be fixed in that police department. I don’t think it is going to be fixed unless a third party independent come in,” Jane Doe said.
An Audit vs a Monitor at the SDPD
The press conference introducing Zimmerman included City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, praising outgoing chief Lansdowne and promising to the city would implement proposals for uniform mounted cameras along with a “thorough and independent” review.
He also went off talking about how most reports of police conduct were exaggerated and/or lies. And while his point about the majority of police officers not being abusive is undoubtedly true, Goldsmith’s blanket condemnation of citizen complaints (especially those that have been reported in the media, he said) amounted to an admission that his office shouldn’t be trusted to carry out such investigations.
He waved a report around on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department published by the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) as an example of the kind of review he had in mind, citing its 149 page length and 75 recommendations.
The key word here is recommendation. Follow up is essentially limited to press releases about implementation. Reporting on changes made was done by the LVMPD.
In Las Vegas COPS worked with the CNA (“Not an acromym,” according to their website) Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization located in Alexandria, VA that serves as a contractor for a variety of government agencies.
The differences between an independent audit and a monitor are two-fold. Companies like CNA depend on voluntary cooperation by law enforcement agencies. Their conclusions can be ignored or simply implemented in name only.
And if you’d like to learn about just how (in)effective the LVMPD effort was, read the columns of Norm Jahn, a former police lieutenant with 25 years of experience in the Las Vegas Tribune.
A monitor, like defendant Jane Doe is asking for in her lawsuit, would consist of actual government employees with (if needed) court-backed investigative powers. Their conclusions would include recommendations and mandatory actions.
The City Attorney and the local law enforcement hierarchy obviously prefer an investigation with less potentially disruptive consequences. The question over whether such consequences are needed goes to just how bad is underlying culture at the SDPD (and up the legal chain).
A Rotten Cop Gets Too Many Chances
I think any questions about just how bad things are at the SDPD are effective addressed in Liam Dillon’s excellent story post in Voice of San Diego this morning about convicted ex-cop Anthony Arevalos. You simply must read the whole thing.
Here’s the lede:
Before former San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos’ arrest in 2011, his supervisors knew he had made sexually charged comments to a woman with mental disabilities while transporting her to a hospital. They knew he looked at pornography at work on his department-issued computer. And they knew he had been accused of behaving inappropriately toward a 16-year-old girl during a traffic stop.
Supervisors had also cleared Arevalos of sexually assaulting a 28-year-old woman while taking her to jail a year before his arrest. They had sent him back out on the streets to patrol downtown alone. In that case, the sergeant in charge of the criminal investigation was convinced of Arevalos’ guilt, and a district attorney who later reviewed the case found problems with the department’s investigation (though still declined to prosecute him for it).
One of Arevalos’ colleagues described him this way: “Teflon.”
The story demonstrates the power of the “Blue Curtain” around the SDPD. There are repeated instances of people coming forward to complain about police behavior only to be disregarded. These are the same kind of ‘exaggerations and lies’ City Attorney Goldsmith was ranting about in front of TV cameras yesterday. His statements alone should be all the proof anybody needs to understand that a ‘voluntary’ audit is simply another opportunity for the city government to deny that there is a problem.
Another Example of San Diego’s Blind Eye
Former councilwoman Donna Frye’s quest for open government has once again been thwarted. Her proposal for an open-government ballot measure was tabled by the City Council indefinitely yesterday. And the man behind the curtain pulling the strings was none other than City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
The measure would make changes to San Diego’s City Charter language to require communication on all media, including emails and text messages, that concerns city business to be open to public records requests. This is a requirement under the California Public Records Act, but Frye says the city charter is out of date and currently only requires that “books, records and accounts” be open.
The open-government measure also says if the city denies access to a public record, it must provide a written justification explaining what harm would result from that disclosure. It also requires any new city rule or policy that limits access to records or meetings be based on “factual evidence demonstrating the need for that rule or policy,” Frye said.
Although Frye’s measure passed the city’s Committee on Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations, at that meeting City Attorney Jan Goldsmith raised concerns that some parts of the measure could expose the city to more lawsuits.
Frye amended the measure to address Goldsmith’s concerns. The City Attorney then dredged up more ‘concerns, just in time to stall consideration for another two weeks. At this week’s meeting Councilwoman Sherri Lightner objected, based on a question about overlap or conflict should voters approve Proposition 42 in June.
What ridiculous here is that Prop 42 is simply meant to make local governments pay the costs required to keep records and meetings open, instead of putting those costs in the state budget, as they have been in the past.
Councilwoman Lightner also opined that any open government law should be enacted as an ordinance rather than a charter change requiring voter approval. This would of course mean that future councils could waive or modify open government requirements.
The City Council voted 7-2 (Emerald and Alvarez voting no) to table the measure until after some unspecified date following the June elections, when the City Attorney’s Office and city staff can review whether there’s overlapping language.
CONSPIRACY THEORISTS TAKE NOTE: The Friday Edition of the Starting Line will be published in the afternoon. I’m taking care of personal business in the morning and meeting with the Illuminati.
On This Day: 1827 – New Orleans held its first Mardi Gras celebration. 1970 – Jefferson Airplane was fined $1,000 for using profanity during a concert in Oklahoma City. 1973 – The American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@
Laura E. says
Out of curiosity, has another city the size of San Diego hired a new chief of police recently without undergoing a national search first? I just wonder if this is common practice or San Diego shenanigans.
bob dorn says
As unlikely as it may seem, good cops have always existed within the SDPD; they were just shouted down by the thugs on the force. Nearly nothing trumps machismo in the world of guns, and so the too-quick appointment of Shelley Zimmerman will probably produce in the short run a stalemate between enlightened use of force and macho displays of it. In the long run I doubt there’ll be any serious change.
And going outside the department for a search to replace Lansdowne by itself couldn’t have increased the likelihood of getting a serious, ass-kicking reformer into the chief’s office unless the culture at City Hall were to change; after all, Lansdowne never was a part of the force here until he was named chief.
The problems aren’t even restricted to the council and the police department. We need a D.A. and a grand jury system that could get behind investigations and prosecutions of criminal cops.
Also, the “blue curtian” culture exists in police departments from here all the way to New York City. Chances are that anyone brought from high up in another bureau would still be part of it.
As a 31 year female veteran of the SDPD Zimmerman knows the truth of what were all stating and learning about the department. Im surprised she would put her career and reputation on the line without a clear plan and “back up” support. Sure chief of police is a big promotion and all, but Zimmerman has to know she will ultimately fail. Those 31 years of good service get overlooked quick when you’re just the next one to resign in controversy and failure. Pretty high price to pay in my opinion and really surprised she accepted the job.