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And, here is the good news — the chicken soup for the San Diegan civil libertarian’s soul — the ACLU of San Diego’s 2008 Best in Civil Liberties in the San Diego Area.

Preventing Mistreatment of Vulnerable Groups During Fires and Other Natural Disasters: A new law may help to prevent abuses like those the ACLU and allies documented during the 2007 wildfires. Public employees can ask for information and documents from evacuees of natural disasters only if it is necessary for determining eligibility for services, according to the law signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, sponsored by State Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, and supported by the American Red Cross-San Diego and others. The bill will help vulnerable groups — the elderly, people with disabilities, the homeless, immigrants and those who are low-income — who are the least likely to possess and carry personal documents and the most likely to be affected by unnecessary document checks during a disaster.

Career and College Prep Equality: the Commonsense, Achievable Next Step in Local Education Reform: By 2020, in order for Californians to maintain our current standard of living in an increasingly technological society, employers will need students with a post-high school education level for 75 percent of the jobs in the state. But, right now, only 39 percent of San Diego students are provided the classes needed to go on to either career technical education or college programs in the U.C. and Cal. State systems — i.e., classes that are “A-G certified” by the state. In 2008, a new coalition, the Education Consortium of San Diego County, took off to encourage our school districts to make the kinds of changes that San Jose School District did — adopt a policy of A-G For All and provide multiple pathways for students to get there. With lots of focus but minimal cost, San Jose saw its career and college prep rates increase, as well as other test scores increase and the drop-out rate decrease. Already the San Diego coalition has enlisted diverse, leading institutions like BIOCOM, San Diego Workforce Partnership, and SEIU 221; hosted a symposium of education leaders, issued a survey and reports; and hired its first organizer.

No Shooting Streak: Between December 2006 and a strange incident in November 2008 the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had no officer-involved shootings. That’s a remarkable 23 months without a shooting! Besides luck, credit goes to the Department’s willingness to hire external auditors and implement most of their recommendations, including new procedures for monitoring and reviewing uses of force. The auditors are due to issue a compliance report, and the ACLU is hoping to see progress on the implementation of a serious Early Intervention System and the handling of people with mental illness.

Defeat of Prop. 4: Californians — but, alas, not a majority of San Diego County voters — saw Prop. 4 for what it really was: yet another attempt to play abortion politics with teens’ lives. The initiative would have required teens either to notify their parents they were intending to seek an abortion or charge their parents with abuse. It was a recipe for driving teens to dangerous, unsafe measures for obtaining an abortion. Reports indicate Jim Holman, owner of The San Diego Reader, is contemplating a fourth misguided attempt at an initiative.

Improvement in Oceanside’s Suicide Response: We are expecting an announcement of major improvements in the way Oceanside Police respond to people who are threatening suicide. Some changes have already been implemented — including having a team, rather than a single officer, handle negotiations. After a negotiation that was tragically mishandled by Oceanside Police, on December 26, 2007, Grant Sattaur took his life. The parents sought change but ran into dead ends until the ACLU helped them to publicize their effort and negotiate with the city. If the expected reforms are in fact delivered, the City and the Department will deserve credit for upgrading their practices and seeking to become a model for emulation rather than derision.

We crave the marketplace of ideas, so please bring on your suggestions and comments below. And, dear friends and especially those of you in positions of power, let’s resolve to protect fundamental freedoms and individual rights for all in 2009.

— KEVIN KEENAN

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