File photo by Sam Hodgson
San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne (center) and Executive Assistant Police Chief David Ramirez at an October 2011 City Council meeting.
When a string of officer misconduct allegations focused national attention on the San Diego Police Department last year, Chief Bill Lansdowne organized a press conference outside police headquarters, publicly apologized for a breach of public trust and rolled out seven steps aimed at preventing future problems.
Lansdowne created a confidential hotline to allow the community or officers to call him directly and raise concerns. (The number is 619.531.2672.)
The step added internal oversight and was the most vivid example of Lansdowne putting the responsibility for cleaning up the scandal on his shoulders. The mayor, City Council and many in the community rallied behind him as public scrutiny intensified.
But since then, police have provided little information about the hotline and how it’s used. They have offered only basic statistics, such as the number of calls made to the hotline since its inception (279), and hypothetical examples about the types of complaints that people might raise about San Diego’s police force.
Council members, particularly Councilman David Alvarez, have now asked Lansdowne for more details at two public hearings. The chief ignored their request last October and declined another request at a council committee meeting last week.
Alvarez said his office had referred South Bay residents to the hotline and he wanted to know more about how police had responded. Alvarez said the City Auditor operates a similar confidential hotline and provides much more information about its activities than police.
The auditor’s quarterly reports explain the nature of complaints, who handled them and how they were resolved. If the auditor’s investigation found a problem, the reports explain how it was fixed.
Lansdowne, however, declined to do the same. He said all complaints received through the hotline are investigated and providing any more information about the nature of calls could make the feature useless.
“It’s critical that we keep the information confidential,” Lansdowne said when pushed on the subject by Alvarez. “Just a little bit of the information may identify the person to those that know the person, and that would lead people to not trust the line.”
Alvarez still wasn’t satisfied. Just before the council committee moved onto another topic, he pulled up a copy of the auditor’s reports and circled back to the chief once more.
“It seems very general in terms of areas that they’re reporting. I would suggest you just take a look at it,” Alvarez told Lansdowne. “It’s good way to give us an understanding of what’s happening and that would be appreciated.”
Lansdowne didn’t make any promises.
I called the chief’s office Monday and asked why Lansdowne had declined to release more information about the hotline. Paul Cooper, the chief’s legal counsel and policy adviser, promised police would provide a more detailed report to City Council in the coming months.
“We’re exploring to look at ways to do that to ensure the confidentiality of the system,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he wasn’t sure whether the Police Department’s report would include as much depth as the auditor’s reports Alvarez cited at the council meeting.
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