Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(San Diego) Grand jury: Bullying common on police review board

Written by Kristina Davis - U-T San Diego

The county grand jury investigating San Diego’s police citizen review board uncovered an atmosphere rife with “prejudice, fear and intimidation,” and determined that bullying and a lack of decorum impairs the board’s ability to be a true watchdog on police practices, according to a report released Tuesday.

The nine-page report cites a number of factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of the board, including a “weak” central leadership, the strong influence of police internal affairs investigators and a prejudiced appointment process for board members.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that the city is open to feedback and suggestions about ways to increase effectiveness. He said the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices is already addressing some of the concerns, including holding a meeting about decorum and re-opening the pool of prospective members to recruit diverse candidates.

“The CRB is a competent, hard working board with many diverse voices providing impartial oversight of investigations and responses to citizens’ complaints against officers,” Goldstone said.

Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said he supports the board and how the mayor’s office runs the program.

The board’s 23 volunteer civilians review citizens’ complaints against the San Diego Police Department. The mayor appoints new board members but only after the current board recommends them, allowing prejudice and personal bias into the process, the grand jury report says.

The board, established in 1988, typically reviews investigative reports already completed by the Police Department’s internal affairs unit and ultimately agrees or disagrees with the findings. The board is not authorized to conduct its own investigations nor does it have direct access to people making complaints, witnesses or officers involved in the cases.

The report depicts a confrontational working environment where intimidation, threats, yelling and cursing are routine.

Past and present board members who were interviewed for the report told the grand jury that internal affairs investigators would argue, lecture and sometimes bully board members leaning toward dissenting on cases. One person told the grand jury that if a member continued to disagree, that person was then branded as anti-police.

The report also found that internal affairs personnel are routinely allowed to attend closed session meetings in which the board’s findings are debated and rendered.

This practice may have started as early as 1993, when the board recommended allowing internal affairs investigators into a meeting to familiarize themselves with the process, according to a memo uncovered by the grand jury. It is now customary, the report states.

While the legality of allowing nonmembers in closed sessions may be argued, the report says the state Attorney General’s Office takes the position it generally should not happen.

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