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It was an idea that lifted a police chief named Jerry Sanders to stardom and set San Diego as a vanguard in law enforcement. Known as “problem-oriented policing,” it empowered police to take a proactive focus on crime prevention, not just reaction.

As our public safety reporter, Keegan Kyle, reported in May, San Diego has moved away from its famed approach as budgets have been cut and Chief Bill Lansdowne has implemented his own vision for the department.

“The result: A police officer in San Diego today places greater focus on responding faster to dangerous situations than on preventing underlying causes,” Kyle wrote. Mirroring trends nationwide, crime continued to drop in San Diego as the department forged a new identity.

Ten days after that story ran, crisis hit the department.

Lansdowne acknowledged an “unprecedented” spike in police misconduct allegations and promised a raft of reforms. Since October, the department has acknowledged 11 internal or criminal investigations involving offenses including felony drunk driving, domestic violence, excessive force and on-duty rape.

What is going on? The chief said the department worried about growing stress and lagging internal oversight. Just as it had shifted dwindling resources away from proactive policing, so did it pare back on officer monitoring. That mix, we reported, created more latitude for police misconduct at the department.

In addition to other changes, the chief had quietly disbanded its internal anti-corruption unit shortly after arriving.

Lansdowne himself is no stranger to controversies, we noted in an in-depth profile. However, this one is different: The chief’s own decisions have contributed to the underpinnings of it.

Last week, the news got more troubling. The department had investigated officer Anthony Arevalos for allegations of on-duty sexual assault in February 2010, only to return him to patrol, we reported. He went on to solicit sexual favors from or sexually assault five more women during DUI stops, according to prosecutors.

Lansdowne’s legal and policy adviser has challenged our statement that the department “recommended” charges to the district attorney, saying that it merely forwarded the case to prosecutors. We doubled back with our sources, who say the story’s sound. We stand behind the phrasing, but regardless it’s a smaller point that can obscure the bigger questions the department is refusing to answer. The most salient of which: why the officer was allowed back on patrol after being investigated by the SDPD.

The chief has acknowledged that the community’s trust is showing signs of erosion. He told the Union-Tribune this week that some residents have verbally challenged police when stopped or ask for additional officers to be called to the scene.

This is an important story. We collectively place great trust in our armed officers to protect and detain us and our fellow residents. We’ll stay on it.

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This is a new feature I’m testing out. I know it’s hard to keep up with the blizzard of information headed our way each day. I’ll put together summaries of the narratives we’re following, explain why we’re interested in them and, when relevant, the behind-the-scenes decisions that went into them.

Let me know what you think.

I’m the editor of VOSD. If you support the public service we provide, please consider donating. We’re a nonprofit that relies on donations. If you’d like to reach me directly, email me at andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at 619.325.0526. Follow me on Twitter: @AndrewDonohue.

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