Friday, October 14, 2016
[San Diego County] Police oversight boards? No, thank you
The 2015–2016 San Diego County Grand Jury Report on Citizen Oversight Boards of Police Behavior issued on May 25 recommended that seven cities establish citizen review boards or consider establishing regional boards. Jurors suggested that one board could oversee complaints in Escondido, Oceanside, and Carlsbad; another could serve El Cajon and La Mesa; and a third could combine Coronado and Chula Vista with the existing National City board.
The report began with the statement that jurors “investigated several citizen complaints regarding police officer behavior in local jurisdictions and found there are differing methods for handling citizen complaints.” The report acknowledged that local jurisdictions met “California requirements for reviewing complaints” and stated “there are two models” for boards: the City of San Diego Citizens’ Review Board and the County of San Diego Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board.
The report recommended that the city and county “provide limited compensation for board member time and involvement” and that the city “provide independent legal counsel” to the board. “Interviewed officials expressed dissatisfaction with the legal services provided by the office of the city attorney [the board’s legal counsel]. The city attorney also defends the police department, creating a potential conflict of interest,” the report stated.
People interviewed by the jury included members of both boards, San Diego councilmembers, and police chiefs. On April 11, Escondido police chief Craig Carter spoke to jurors for approximately 90 minutes. “The questions centered on policies and procedures,” he said on September 20. Carter, president of the San Diego County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, also spoke to jurors about the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and community outreach.
On July 19, the county board of supervisors approved chief administrative officer Helen Robbins-Meyer’s response to the report that maintained “modest compensation” would “encourage greater community involvement and increase board diversity.” Robbins-Meyer countered that the county pays for travel expenses. “It does not appear that additional compensation is needed to increase board diversity and community involvement.”
The county’s review board established in 1990 investigates complaints against sheriff’s deputies and probation officers. The board “handles about 125 to150 cases each year,” county spokesperson Tammy Glenn said on September 21.
The 23 cases on the September 13 agenda included a man’s complaint that a deputy “allegedly did not take the complainant’s grievance/complaint, saying there were no forms.” The board found the deputy’s action justified because the deputy “verbally accepted his complaint by offering to have a sergeant come to the station and meet with him concerning this matter.”
Another complainant alleged that a deputy “repeatedly failed to respond to numerous grievances pertaining to separate housing of transgender inmates and their lack of programs.” Documentation included grievances filed between July 3–8, 2015. The board sustained the complaint.
While tracking responses, I asked city officials about the number of complaints. Jurors made no recommendation about National City (population 61,060 according to the 2010 census). The National City Community and Police Relations Commission was established in October 2003. According to May 19 minutes, commissioners unanimously supported police-department findings in three cases. A fourth case was withdrawn.
In Coronado (population 24,812), the city council on July 19 approved mayor Casey Tanaka’s letter that said the police department received an “84 percent positive rating” in a 2014 National Research Center survey of residents. Tanaka pointed out that jurors didn’t specify the locations where citizens complained. The grand jury had not responded at press time to the Reader’s phone messages about the number of complaints and locations.
Coronado police chief Jon Froomin said September 19 that there were five complaints in 2014, nine in 2015, and six so far in 2016. “Cities handle [complaints] differently. I play it fairly safe” when classifying an incident as a formal complaint. Grievances include the person who complained about being arrested. That person received a letter that said, “You were never arrested. You were detained and let go.”
Another complaint was from a driver who said, “I think it’s unfair that the officer gave me a parking ticket.” Asked why this was unfair, the driver referred to other cars that weren’t ticketed.
In a September 19 interview, La Mesa (population 60,089) police chief Walt Vasquez elaborated on his statements at the July 26 council meeting. The council rejected formation of a board after Vasquez spoke about the city’s low complaint total and methods of communication ranging from Coffee with a Cop events to social media.
In the interview, Vasquez said five complaints were filed in 2015. The 2016 year-to-date total was two complaints. At community forums, Vasquez said the most common concerns “are traffic-related, speeding and the volume of cars, and transients.”
The one police-related concern raised by residents was Vasquez’s response to the question, “Can you put a police officer at the intersection [on a longterm basis]?” “I can’t do that,” he said.
Social media includes the police department’s Facebook page, and Vasquez said his phone number and an email link are on department web page. “People can email directly or call with a concern, question, or complaint — or if they have a compliment, there’s a form [on the page] to commend an officer or civilian employee.”
The San Diego County Grand Jury extended the City of San Diego’s (population 1,394,928) response deadline to October 28, mayor Kevin Faulconer’s press secretary Jen Lebron said on August 3. The review required for the response and the city’s August legislative recess prompted the extension, she explained.
San Diego’s board was established in 1988, and, Lebron said there were 63 Category 1 complaints in 2015 — issues pertaining to an “arrest, criminal conduct, discrimination, force, and use of ethnic/racial slurs.” There were also 87 Category 2 complaints, which pertain “to conduct, courtesy, procedure, and service.”
In Carlsbad (population 113,453), 12 citizen complaints were filed in 2015, communications manager Kristina Ray said in an August 5 email. A public records request yielded an August 3 letter rejecting formation of a board. That recommendation was also rejected by city councils in El Cajon on August 9 and Oceanside on August 10, and in Escondido city manager Graham Mitchell’s August 16 letter.
October 12, 2016
San Diego Reader
By Liz Swain