By Doug Porter
The 85 page report released yesterday on the San Diego Police Department did exactly what it was intended to do: reassure the public that everything was under control. A constant stream of bad publicity and lawsuits resulting from accusations of police misconduct and lawlessness led the city to seek outside help a year ago and the Justice Department was glad to oblige.
The Police Executive Research Forum, paid for by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), conducted a review of management practices and made 40 recommendations. City officials told a press conference that many of those suggestions were already being implemented and others could be accomplished if funding was made available.
UT-San Diego reported that a separate FBI investigation into alleged on-duty criminal conduct by officers is ongoing. Attorneys for victims who have already settled lawsuits against the city, along with community activists and civil liberties groups expressed dissatisfaction with the report, citing its narrow focus and failure to mention racial profiling.
From the Los Angeles Times:
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 a federal review released Tuesday.
Many of the department’s problems can be traced to the city’s ongoing financial problems that led to a lack of personnel, 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.
The department has had “a failure of leadership at many levels” that caused a “failure to hold people accountable,” Davis said.
UT-San Diego included some of the administrative changes that have already been put in place by police chief Shelly Zimmerman:
Zimmerman already has restored the Professional Standards Unit, which initiates investigations into officer misconduct, and equipped 600 patrol officers with body-worn cameras. All patrol officers are to have cameras by the year’s end.
Another change: Recruits are asked 24 new questions about past sexual history, an area expanded upon in response to the rash of sexual misconduct cases.
The audit recommended the department take greater advantage of a new officer’s probationary period to address performance and discipline issues early on. It also recommended a “truly randomized” drug testing process for employees and a clear policy that prohibits the use of alcohol for a specified amount of time before an officer reports for duty.
It was Police Sgt. Jeff Jordon, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, who made the plea for additional funding in the UT account.
He said many of the problems cited can be addressed with policy tweaks, but others will require substantial funding, especially for more hiring and promotions.
“The chief is only going to implement (the recommendations) if the council gives her the money to implement them,” Jordon said.
The sense of “every thing’s gonna be okay now” didn’t last through the day.
I’ll let an excerpt from today’s UT editorial tell the story:
It may seem odd to look at an 85-page report that contains 40 recommendations stemming from 17 recent scandals in one police department and see it as good news, but we do. A few years ago, when a steady stream of police misconduct kept making headlines, it seemed plausible that there might be something rotten at the core of the department. Instead, Ronald Davis, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, found that even “with these deficiencies, you’re still looking at a very progressive, sound, effective police department.”
Unfortunately, this reassuring statement came as the U-T Watchdog was breaking a story about a new kind of misconduct in the department: the revising of its Wikipedia page, sometimes using police department computers and sometimes making the changes anonymously, to reframe the agency in a more favorable light. We hope Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman sets a clear policy that department computers should not be used for such manipulation.
Reporter Joel Hoffman wrote about edits or deletions made to Wikipedia pages concerning SDPD misconduct five times over the past 14 months.
A Round Up of Criticism on the SDPD Report
Let’s take a look back at my predictions for the PERF report, posted on December 31st as part of my year-end roundup.
…The Justice Department funded report by Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) of practices and programs within the SDPD will be released early in 2015. (So I’m told) It will say: bad things happened, but it’s all better now. The public will be told the list of recommendations has either been put into place or will be soon. The connection between the police chiefs allegedly responsible for those bad things that happened and their service on the board of directors of PERF won’t be discussed…
That’s right folks, the fox was hired to investigate the hen house. Both recent ex-SDPD chiefs had relationships with PERF.
At Voice of San Diego, Liam Dillon pointed out that current police chief had just promoted one of the supervisors associated with covering up allegations of sexual misconduct.
The department inadvertently drew attention to its failure to hold Arevalos accountable with an awkwardly timed move announcing the promotion of Rudy Tai just a day before the report’s release. Tai is the SDPD supervisor most closely linked with failing to discipline Arevalos over the years, according to depositions and other information from the civil case against the Arevalos.
Tai was Arevalos’ supervisor in the late 1990s. Arevalos told Tai he’d flirted with a woman with mental disabilities in the back of his patrol car. Tai let Arevalos off with a verbal warning and didn’t document the incident. Other officers said in depositions they’d reported that Arevalos had taken naked pictures of the woman and one officer said he’d reported that the woman had put Arevalos’ baton in her vagina while Arevalos watched. Tai said in his deposition that he doesn’t recall being told of the more serious allegations and would have taken more severe actions against Arevalos had he known about them.
When Arevalos was arrested more than a decade later, Tai was in charge of the sex-crimes unit, which was handling the case. At the time, Tai didn’t tell his own investigators about Arevalos’ conduct with the mentally disabled woman. Tai said in a deposition that he didn’t think the incident was relevant.
It’s important to remember here that the City attorney’s office fought long and hard to keep the case of “Jane Doe” from going to trial. They hired investigators to look into her personal life and even went so far as to assert (later withdrawn) that the victim bribed Arevalos when he took her underwear as a souvenir. And, of course, they whispered that she was a golddigger.
Victim Doe fought for and finally had to give up a demand for a more detailed investigation and audit of the SDPD. The out-of-court settlement in her case means that many details about the inner workings of the SDPD will remain under court-ordered seal.
Here’s UT-San Diego again:
Linda Workman, one of the attorneys who won a nearly $6 million settlement with the city on behalf of “Jane Doe,” a victim of Arevalos’ sexual battery and bribes, voiced concerns that the audit didn’t go far enough.
“We observed such a deeply ingrained and long-standing practice, not just of misconduct but cover-up by upper and middle management, and much of that management is still there,” Workman said.
Here’s another lawyer, quoted on NBC7:
“It is garbage in, garbage out from the standpoint of, unless they’re looking at everything, then it’s really not a true audit, and it’s really just more lip service,” said attorney Dan Gilleon, who has represented SDPD officers in employments and injury cases.
Racial Profiling at the SDPD
From the Los Angeles Times:
A staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said that while the recommendations seem good, the report was “too narrow to be a real comprehensive review of the department.”
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 recent 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.
The NBC7 story included the COPS response to that assertion:
Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office Director Ronald Davis, who led the audit, said it did not explore racial profiling because they were not asked to look at that.
“I think the conversation about police and race and dealing with implicit bias, and also dealing with racism, is a conversation that has to occur,” said Davis “This specific audit and assessment was about 17 cases, specific cases and how to detect and investigate misconduct.”
So the bottom line here with this report is that the city got exactly what it asked for. Don’t expect the procedural tweaks and public relations effort to fix much more than the public perception.
That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
On This Day: 1969 – President Nixon authorized Operation Menue. It was the ‘secret’ bombing of Cambodia. 1977 – The Clash’s first single, “White Riot,” was released. 1997 – The Los Angeles City Council passed the first living wage ordinance in California. The ordinance required almost all city contractors to pay a minimum wage of $8.50 an hour, or $7.25 if the employer was contributing at least $1.25 toward health benefits, with annual adjustments for inflation.
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@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.