Opinion

Rein it in, Citizens Review Board

Rein it in, Citizens Review Board

Photo by Sam Hodgson

A San Diego Police Department officer pulls over a driver on University Avenue in City Heights.

Here’s a radical idea: Instead of spending $200,000 to test body cameras on San Diego Police Department officers because Chief William Lansdowne needs proof that racial profiling is a problem, let’s give the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices actual power to do the job it was set up to do.

READ MORE: Takeaways From the Racial Profiling Hearing 

fix san diego opinionThe current board is the product of Proposition G, passed by voters in 1988 and designed to defeat the concurrent Proposition F, which would have given the board real teeth.

More than 25 years later, the now-eighth largest city in the U.S. has yet to update it.

In May 2012, the an Diego Grand Jury reported:

“The Citizens Review Board had been allowing personnel from the SDPD Internal Affairs Division to attend the board’s closed session meetings for several years. This could have an effect on the board’s independent decisions.

Interviewees told the grand jury that they have heard Internal Affairs personnel tell the board they never want any dissenting votes going from the board to the mayor or the chief of police.

Board leadership fosters a lack of decorum among its members, which is in direct violation of board bylaws. This has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation perpetuated by some board members. This contributes to a high turnover rate of prospective board members who are appointed to the board as vacancies occur. Board leadership is weak and lacks the will to control CRB meetings including the behavior of CRB members toward one another.”

To address the problems, the grand jury recommended that the mayor:

• Establish an independent interview committee for the selection of prospective CRB members, using questions determined by the mayor, to whom the committee would make recommendations directly.

• Appoint an independent, three-member team to investigate the current CRB executive leadership and evaluate the need to replace it.

• Immediately instruct the chief of police to ensure that Internal Affairs personnel stop attending CRB closed sessions.

• Reduce the consecutive one-year terms of CRB members from eight to four, to encourage ethnic and economic diversity.

The grand jury further recommended that the city attorney investigate deputy city attorneys assigned to the board, and evaluate the need to replace any of them. (Note: Read the board’s response to the grand jury’s report here.)

In April, nearly a year after the grand jury’s report, members of Women Occupy San Diego attended an information session for anyone interested in applying to serve on the board, as well as a board public meeting.

The required information session was held at San Diego police headquarters in the room on the ground floor used for media briefings, which has a separate entrance/exit. Despite this separate entrance, attendees had to sign in at the desk and wait to be escorted down a hall by uniformed officers.

In the information session, the “nominating committee” was introduced as current board members – not an independent interview committee, as recommended by the grand jury. From their description, it was clear that Internal Affairs had a central and overriding role in the board’s complaint review process.

As for the public meeting held in the Balboa Park Club, we were exposed to two examples of the “atmosphere of fear and intimidation” reported by the grand jury:

I suffer from hearing loss. I moved a chair to face the speaker, whose back was to the public attendees as he faced the board, so I could read his lips. After being challenged about sitting facing the speaker, and refusing to move (I explained why I needed to sit there), the board executive director chose to stand next to me throughout the remaining speakers, despite having several armed, uniformed police officers in the room.

Then, during a Taser demonstration by the police department, one of the female board members whooped and grinned. Lack of decorum, indeed.

The Citizens Review Board on Police Practices needs to reflect and represent all civilians whom police are supposed to protect and serve.

The police wield very wide discretion, which must be effectively checked by an independent body to which civilians can present their grievances for impartial investigation and corrective action.

It’s this overarching good government purpose that must outweigh the self-interest of the police department and city attorney to maintain their power and privilege.

Martha Sullivan is a resident of Del Mar Terrace in San Diego and a member of Women Occupy San Diego. Sullivan’s commentary has been lightly edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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Martha Sullivan

Martha Sullivan
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10 comments
zazzzisme
zazzzisme subscriber

I recently wanted to report the sheriffs department for misconduct and decided to used the citizens law enforcement review board. That is until I received all the paperwork I had to fill out and sign. they wanted my medical records...for what? and basically as I understand the paperwork, I don't get to find out anything about the review. But the real topper for me was... these good ole boys are located in the same building, like down the hall from the good ole boys im complaining about. So, what are the chances that all those good ole boys don't know each other, talk about their families, or what they did last weekend and so on. Now, I am suppose to believe that I will get a fair shake? I already don't feel safe....but it can always get worse. I've been put in the hosp because of an anonymous call and when I get home, find my house robbed of all my jewelry, money, checks and they even used my credit card to pay a bill and I was told to "shut up." Nothing was done. I wasn't even allowed to make a report. This went on for a year. So, I would feel a lot safer if I could report to a review board that was not down the hall from my abusers. I feel I have no right to be safe in my own home. 

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

Thanks to VOSD for continued reporting on Chief Lansdowne's "big idea" to put body cameras on cops, in response to community concerns about racial profiling. Turns out it's NOT new for the SDPD, which tried them 4 years ago and has a small pilot project going on now. From the new story: "San Diego State University public affairs professor Joshua Chanin said the cameras could help improve police accountability, but the key will be how they’re implemented.

“In order to deter misbehavior there has to be some threat of being caught doing something unlawful,” Chanin wrote in an email. “I doubt seriously that mid-level managers (or whomever) will have the capacity to review the tapes regularly so as to either catch misbehavior in real time or provide enough of a threat to deter misconduct. On balance, some potential, but my guess is that it will end up being unrealistic/unfeasible.” http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/02/04/that-other-time-the-police-department-used-body-cameras/.That Other Time the Police Department Used Body Camerashttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/02/04/that-other-time-the-police-department-used-body-cameras/San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne's big reveal at last week's City Council committee hearing on racial profiling was a request to outfit patrol officers with body cameras. Video and audio tapes of police interactions with community members wou...

sjagitator
sjagitator

Cameras or no, unless we have a citizens review board with subpoena capabilities the money for cameras is a total waste. Our public institutions are at an all time low in credibility. Without public accountability, autonomy and independence we won't be able to trust a thing on police film. And Ms. Sullivan is right, just throwing precious resources at a problem so they can say they did something without real substantive change is a terrible idea.

Benjamin Katz
Benjamin Katz subscribermember

There's some really interesting points here. I just can't figure out why this is an either/or situation. Let's improve the Citizens Review Board and implement body cameras. The ACLU agrees with police leadership that cameras (properly regulated) protect police from false accusations and citizens from police misconduct.Here's why cops should be required to wear a lapel camera while on dutyhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/10/10/heres-why-cops-should-be-required-to-wear-a-lapel-camera-while-on-duty/Police officers in Rialto, Calif., carry cameras to record their every action while on duty. The city says the program has reduced complaints against police officers by 88 percent during the first year. The idea is sparking debate across the country....

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

Because we can't manage to pay for space to even house transitional storage bins for the houseless. Because people are sleeping on our streets because we struggle to find money for shelters.

Jake Vogelsang
Jake Vogelsang subscriber

We are under constant surveillance that comes in many forms on a daily basis yet we rarely get to decide when that happens. Currently, the police are allowed to pick and choose when they get to record their dealings with the community. That means when it is beneficial to them and them alone. I am 100% in favor of recording every interaction that the police have with the community. The money saved on lawsuits against the department alone will pay for the equipment as well as go a long way in reducing any he said / she said arguements about what may or ay not have happend during a police/citizen interaction. How often do you hear a governent official come out like the Police Chief did and suggest that his office receive more oversight?
This is absolutely not an either or decision and we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by that kind of noise. Every community should have an independent citizens review board in place that is free from the influence of the department they are reviewing but that doesn't mean that spending money on these camera's is wasteful. We have technology available that can help both the community and the police. Why not use it?

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

How 'bout we do the thing that doesn't cost our cash-strapped City $200k-$2Mil FIRST?

Martha Sullivan
Martha Sullivan subscribermember

James Weber, one would think, the way they throw it at pet projects, but can't manage to find it to keep people sheltered, or even keep their meager belongings secure so they can look for work and/or obtain services to help them out of houselessness.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The price seems inflated. Where are the RFQ's, RFP's, bid responses, etc...

It almost seems like someone selling cameras is buddies with Lansdowne.

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

$200k-$2Mil is chump change for the City.