Talk of Police Reform at Livable Neighborhoods Committee


The meeting of the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee delved heavily into police issues.  The Black Student Justice Coalition (BSJC) came to the Council to speak on police reform. They had to wait for the whole meeting, since they were left almost to the end.

“The dialogue has started to happen.” opened Jones. He also went into the priorities of the BSJC. The top priority is the formation of a Civil Review Board that is actually accountable to the community. This is one reason they want to have a meeting with both the Mayor and the charter Committee. Council Member Chris Cate agreed, and invited Jones to come before his committee.

Jones had 20 minutes and used them effectively. He explained that in the eyes of the community there are problems. There is still structural racism in the police department, and cited SDPD Sergeant Arthur Scott, who is suing the department for the use of a racist cartoon, depicting Officer Frank McCarter, the first SDPD African American patrolman.


While Chief Shelley Zimmerman explained that officers do receive training, and this is required by law, Jones did point out that the lawsuit pointed to the problem. There is a feeling among minority communities that there is profiling. There is data that seems to support it as well. Jones cited recent data that does show traffic stops by all races. (The Department stopped compiling this data, but started compiling it again in the very recent past). Voice of San Diego has a good overview of this data.

African Americans do seem to experience more stops than either Hispanic or White drivers, as well as more searches. Since this data set is very new, none can make predictions yet from it, but it is troubling.

Jones also asked for a representative police force. He said, “A police force should be representative of the citizenry it is designed to serve and protect.” He pointed to the many citizens who would like to serve. He also said that he knows we have a very small African American community in San Diego. He also said that misdemeanors might stop African Americans from applying. He would like to see this changed, so more minority officers can patrol the streets.

Jones also focused on the use of force. This is a point that many in the minorities of color feel is overused, that is force. While the department has a matrix of use of force, many of them would like it to be made extremely clear to citizens.

Chiefly, the most important priority right now is the citizen review board and meeting with the District Attorney. The BSJC wants to examine a special prosecutor for all deadly use cases, as well as making sure the Citizen’s Review Board has some teeth.


Catherine Mendonca spoke about the stolen lives, and how there is a feeling of impunity on the part of the police. She said that “out of 167 instances (referred to the Citizen’s Review Board,) only 24 percent of them were reviewed by the CRB.”

She went into how the CRB exonerated the six cases in use of officer involved shootings, and all six were found to be within policy. Her question to assembled officers was what was the policy in use of force, since officers have less than lethal methods.

Mendonca (and Jones) highlighted the case of Victor Ortega, who died in 2012. At the time the District Attorney found no issues in the use of lethal force by officer Jonathan McCarthy. She pointed out that recently a Federal Judge found inconsistencies in this case.


Martha Sullivan told the Committee that “an independent civilian review board is absolutely essential in moving the city forwards in the 21st century.” She also said that it was not possible “to have true accountability and true transparency from an agency that investigates itself.”

Pastor Richard Cisco was a dissenting voice. He told the members of the BSJC had to realize that we were part of the same community. He said that at one point he was anti cop but these days he worked with the Police, and prayed for them.

Cisco also added that this only divided us. It was best to work for community. He showed photos of him and officers, as well as black and white command staff together.

Council Member Marti Emerald did state all the good things the police is doing. Yes, the department has achieved important goals, such as crime reduction, and mentoring of youth. None disputes this. At the same time, these demands from the community are serious enough to warrant not just more dialogue, but also positive changes.

Council Member Myrtle Cole is guiding this though the Committee partly because of her experience as a former law enforcement officer. In this sense, the city is moving forwards towards a dialogue that is critical. As Mark Jones has repeatedly told Reporting San Diego, the goal is to avoid a Fergusson like event in this city.

One of the things that the Police will do, according to the Chief, is have more open dialogue with the community, as well as a sit down in the Summer. For the moment, they also invited all members of the public to learn more about the police department, and this ranges from classes at the Academy, to ride alongs.

Walking in each other’s shoes will help all concerned to understand some of what goes on. It is a community effort.

Twitter: @nadinbrzezinski

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Categories: City Hall Politics, civil rights, Law enforcement, Victor Ortega

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