Two recent episodes give proof to my belief that the Police Department is the most powerful government agency in San Diego with the least amount of taxpayer oversight.
This is nothing new. America’s Finest City has gone through decades of scandal and corruption being followed by hollow promises of reform. The point I’m making today is that things still haven’t changed, despite two changes of leadership, lawsuits, and political posturing.
A long, drawn-out effort to provide an entirely reasonable amount of civilian oversight just went nowhere, thanks to a political slight of hand by City Council President Myrtle Cole, assisted by Councilman Chris Ward.
Mis-representations (some people might even say a pack of lies) on crime statistics tied to marijuana businesses made to the City Council remain unchallenged, even as though those faux facts are being used nationally to justify government intervention and suppression.
While the department’s management and employee association go through the motions of playing the game of politics when push comes to shove their (normally joint) wishes are all that matters.
What makes these political games more serious than say, the machinations around Civic San Diego, are the practical implications and applications for those with less privilege (and more melatonin) as they live their lives.
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.
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.
The stank from this trashy scheme reached the editorial offices at the Union-Tribune:
Fast forward to this year when 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.” And Ernie McCray, who spent 37 years as a school educator and administrator, wrote in the San Diego Free Press last month that, “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.”
Which brings us to Monday. A proposal to pursue a more independent San Diego police review commission — by greenlighting talks with the police union ahead of a potential November ballot measure — failed to win enough votes at a San Diego City Council meeting when Democratic Councilman Chris Ward broke ranks and sided with the council’s Republican minority to scuttle the measure.
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.
Here are a couple of comments lifted from Facebook to ice this cake:
Civic Activist Omar Passons: This is one of the most disappointing votes I’ve seen in the last decade. We cannot and should not fear open and independent review of interactions between our government and our community. This is true of land use decisions, true of the entities with whom the city or county contracts and it is equally true of the interactions between law enforcement and community. Our courts have eroded most of the protections that once existed in terms of rights of redress for racially motivated actions. That left our city government to do everything in its power to ensure race-neutral, appropriate interactions at the first stage. The few law enforcement officers I’ve had a chance to hear on this issue had no fear of this review. If anything, they saw it the same way that body cameras worked – they saw it as better protection for everyone involved.
Former Sheriff Commander Dave Myers: Please people. Call it what it is. The POA lobbyist was sitting in the audience. Chris Ward caved. After 35 years in law enforcement, Ive heard over and over again from the front line “let them see what we do, let them see what we put up with.” front line law enforcement isn’t afraid of transparency. In order to build trust it has to be via a fair and transparent process.
But wait! There’s more!
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 Asociation 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.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that even those weak sauce reforms in Measure G have yet to be put in place. Eight of the 23 seats on the new board–which must be vetted by the Mayor’s office–are vacant. I have it on good authority that plenty of qualified people have volunteered their time to join the effort.
The UT editorial pointed out that minority-majority District 4, represented by Council President Cole, does not have representation.
In a related matter, Voice of San Diego’s Jesse Marx reported the City Council Public Safety Committee apparently couldn’t be bothered to ask about what should have been, at a minimum, an embarrassing presentation by the former Chief of Police.
This week’s meeting included testimony from Lt. Matt Novak, whose powerpoint presentation (which blamed an increase on homelessness on marijuana legalization in Colorado) was used by then-Chief Zimmerman.
The incorrect data cited in this presentation is being repeated nationally by opponents of legalization.
In the 2017 presentation, then-Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman strongly urged the City Council against allowing permits for businesses that cultivate, manufacture and distribute marijuana. She warned that those enterprises would create more crime.
Zimmerman cited 272 police calls to medical marijuana dispensaries over the previous two and a half years for “burglaries, robberies, thefts, assaults and shootings, just to name a few.”
A closer look at those calls for service, VOSD reported in June, revealed that many did not stem from the dispensaries, but from other businesses and locations nearby, and many of the alleged crimes were mundane, including dozens of false security alarms and crank calls to 911.
I will include the necessary disclaimer about most officers not being horrible humans and the need for a law enforcement presence.
The problems with the SDPD have to do with management and an inbred culture of ‘us against them.’ It’s also a historical issue, one fostered by public attitudes, the schemes of elected officials, and self-entitlement of the wealthy.
The bottom line here should be that the San Diego Police Department needs to be answerable to the public. And despite the many officers who agree with this sentiment, it’s not.
Council President Myrtle Cole is on the November ballot. She needs to find another job.
This issue of law enforcement reform was central to this year’s electoral contest for District Attorney. It should surprise nobody that Summer Stephan has now walked back her position on supporting bail reform.
San Diego County voters recently elected a new District Attorney – Summer Stephan. During the campaign, Ms. Stephan said more than once that she supported bail reform, and, as District Attorney, she would support much needed changes to our money bail system. Unfortunately, she already appears to be walking back this promise to voters.
Currently a bill on bail reform (SB-10) is being voted on in Sacramento. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, led by DA Summer Stephan, is officially listed as “opposition”. This is directly in contrast with what then candidate, Summer Stephan, promised during the campaign.
Join us in asking her to keep her promise to the voters and residents of San Diego County, and support bail reform by reversing her opposition to SB-10 today.
We know there is a lot going on in the world right now, and this may not seem like a top priority, but bail reform is crucial to creating real justice. Across this nation, and right here in San Diego County, far too many people sit in jail, having never been convicted of crime, simply because they are too poor to pay bail. If you are rich (but dangerous) you can pay your way out of jail. If you are poor (but not a danger) you may sit in jail for months – often times causing you to lose your job, housing, or worse. Leaving jail pre-trial should ONLY be decided on: whether you are a flight risk, or a danger to the community. We cannot permit a system that criminalizes poverty to exist. Please take 5 minutes of your day to help us hold our elected officials accountable and end this unjust practice of cash-bail.
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