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After a few San Diego police officers were accused of committing separate crimes earlier this year, police called it an isolated crop of bad apples. When it came to light that a few more cops were accused of crimes or serious misconduct, police called the trend an embarrassment.
Then, on Monday, police announced that another officer from their ranks had been arrested. Chula Vista Police arrested William Johnson, a 12-year veteran of the department, and charged him with felony DUI. Chula Vista Police say Johnson crashed his personal vehicle into another car Saturday night and the collision injured the other driver. Because the collision caused injury, although a minor cut, it was booked as a felony.
With the latest arrest, San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said at a press conference this morning, the incidents have amounted to an “unprecedented” spike in alleged misconduct that has tarnished the department’s public image for years to come.
But while each incident added to mounting concern in the community, Lansdowne said the department was well aware of the larger problem before most of the allegations. As early as January, he said police noted growing stress among officers and lagging resources for oversight.
“Clearly we saw an issue and problem coming,” Lansdowne said, “and it came a little faster than we thought it would be.”
The officers Lansdowne referenced have been accused of or charged with various crimes, including drunken driving, stalking, excessive force, domestic violence and rape. Most of them have been reassigned to administrative duties while the department conducts internal investigations. However, last month, police fired Anthony Arevalos, who’s accused of sexually assaulting five women and faces 18 felony charges.
Lansdowne said officers had filed more stress claims in the last two years than the previous six and senior officers had complained about having less time to monitor for misconduct due to budget cuts. While police have shifted resources to maintain patrol levels and improve performance indicators like crime levels and response times, Lansdowne said he realized a need to “spend more time on the officers themselves.”
The result? Lansdowne said the department plans to expand ethics training for lower-ranking officers, create a confidential complaint hotline that anyone can call and add three or four officers to the 14-person Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates citizen complaints and officer misconduct.
Police said they will also reevaluate internal penalties for misconduct as well as each officer’s personal wellness annually. Lansdowne said the department would examine its use of force tactics, which came under scrutiny after a recent video showed police punching a man in North Park while trying to detain him. Police are investigating the incident.
More significant, though, was today’s apology to the community and acknowledgement by Lansdowne of an institutional concern, a change from the earlier idea that misconduct was isolated.
“I want to personally apologize to every citizen of the city of San Diego,” Lansdowne said, “as this behavior is not expected, nor condoned, by me or anyone in the San Diego Police Department.”
The press conference was attended by most local news outlets, including our media partner, NBC San Diego, which posted the video below.
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