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Flanked by three of his highest ranking officers, Police Chief Bill Lansdowne sat before the City Council Wednesday, prepared to answer questions about the largest scandal under his command. But five months after the scandal broke, Lansdowne received more sympathy than scrutiny before a packed room of residents, cops and reporters.
In the scandal that unfolded between October 2010 and May 2011, the Police Department acknowledged 11 separate investigations involving accusations of serious officer misconduct. Five officers were charged criminally, with the most severe charges including on-duty rape and sexual assault.
At the time, Lansdowne called the spike in allegations unprecedented, publicly apologized and rolled out seven initiatives to address lagging internal oversight. They included an anonymous complaint hotline, an expanded unit to investigate misconduct and more attention to officers’ wellness.
Marti Emerald, chairwoman of the council’s public safety committee, had promised a public hearing to hold department leaders accountable for the seven initiatives and question them about internal oversight. But it was delayed for months because of scheduling conflicts.
During that hearing Wednesday, the four members of the committee asked Lansdowne about his seven initiatives, such as how they were implemented and how officers feel about them. Nearly all of his answers were reported by local news media months ago.
Both Emerald and Councilman Todd Gloria downplayed the significance of the scandal through their questions, saying it involved relatively few officers in the department. Gloria said police had been unduly criticized.
“Police do not feel the respect that they deserve,” Gloria said. “I want to make sure for any officer hearing my voice, we appreciate what you do.”
Though Lansdowne’s own decisions have contributed to the scandal’s underpinnings, the chief blamed the problem on larger factors like the economic slump and the city’s financial challenges. He repeatedly said past reductions to the police force allowed greater room for misconduct. And he said police agencies across the nation are noticing similar personnel-related problems.
The council members didn’t press further about the scandal’s causes. Each member thanked Lansdowne for responding to a scandal that developed under his command and Lansdowne returned their praise by thanking them for an opportunity to speak.
Several key questions we’ve had about the scandal went unasked or unanswered.
Emerald was the only council member to push Lansdowne on specific allegations. She asked the chief to explain whether lacking supervision had improved. Without naming him, Emerald cited the allegations facing former officer Anthony Arevalos, who’s accused of soliciting sexual bribes or sexually assaulting seven women while on duty.
Lansdowne said lieutenants are now more available to address misconduct and refused to respond about ongoing investigations. He said his comments could affect where those cases are heard in court and he wants them to stay in San Diego.
“I’m reluctant to talk about those cases right now,” he told Emerald. “We’re going to try it in the courts where it should be.”
Emerald didn’t push, and thanked him for attending the hearing. Lansdowne said the visit was his duty. “I’m the one responsible. I understand that,” he said.
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