By Andrea St. Julian
Community trust in law enforcement is key to legitimate and effective policing. Right now, San Diegans have an opportunity to increase the community’s trust in its Police Department through an amendment to the San Diego City Charter. The amendment will eliminate the Community Review Board on Police Practices (CRB) that currently handles certain complaints against the police and replace it with an independent and more powerful commission.
In the city of San Diego, complaints filed against police officers are investigated by the Police Department through Internal Affairs. The Department provides some of those complaints to the CRB for review. The CRB’s review process consists of looking over the investigation conducted by Internal Affairs.
The new Commission will fundamentally change the way in which the community oversees complaints against the police. It will receive all complaints made against police officers, not just some. This Commission will be independent and have its own legal counsel. The current CRB is merely a board, controlled by the mayor’s office, and required to have the city attorney as its counsel. This is the same city attorney that also represents the San Diego Police Department.
The new Commission will have the authority, and in some cases the duty, to conduct an independent investigation of complaints, not just review the findings of Internal Affairs. It will also have the power to subpoena certain witnesses and obtain all necessary documents from the Police Department. The current board has no such powers. (For a complete version of the charter amendment, go here.)
Dozens of community organizations, and even more community members, actively support the proposed charter amendment. By contrast, the only organizations that have any real opposition to the charter amendment are the Police Department and the Police Officers’ Association. Unfortunately, the opposition of the police seems to have more influence with certain City Council members and the Mayor’s office than the reasoned opinions of the people who elected them.
In 2016, San Diegans passed Measure G which made slight changes to the CRB. The police, and the government officials who listen to them, use Measure G as an excuse to oppose the charter amendment. They tell supporters of the amendment that the City must wait and see what effect Measure G has on the functioning of the CRB before considering an amendment to the charter. The City’s position is baseless. Measure G made no changes in the way the CRB processes complaints. Rather, it codified a process the CRB had always undertaken.
The implementation of Measure G will not improve the functioning of the CRB. The police, City Council members, and other government officials who use Measure G as an excuse for not moving forward with the proposed charter amendment should be taken to task for misleading the public into believing that there is a valid reason to wait. There is nothing to wait for.
The police and certain government officials refuse to understand that the real issue is community trust in the process of police oversight. San Diegans do not trust the current process because the police investigate themselves. As professionals, San Diego police officers should be subject to an independent complaint system in the same manner as are attorneys, doctors, psychologists, dentists and other professionals.
Last week, San Diegans held a public forum on the proposed charter amendment. The crowd was asked, “How many people trust the police to investigate themselves?” Only one person in the overflowing room raised his hand, that one person was the current Chair of the CRB. Clearly, the powers that be want to maintain the status quo. The community, however, does not.
San Diegans can make their voices heard by going to https://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil and urging every City Council member to place the proposed charter amendment on the November 2018 ballot and by contacting the Mayor at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know that he should also support the charter amendment.
If it is at all possible, attend the Rules Committee meeting of the City Council on July 11, at 1 PM, 202 C street, 12th Floor, where the committee will vote on whether to send the amendment to the full City Council for placement on the ballot.
The proposed charter amendment is our way forward toward just and effective policing in San Diego. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Support the proposed charter amendment.
Andrea St. Julian is a San Diego-based attorney and Vice President of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, a supporter of the proposed charter amendment.