To help explain a spike in misconduct allegations against his officers in 2011, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne has often pointed to years of budget cuts he said pressured his department. But in a 2013 deposition, Lansdowne went even further. He said the severity of the cuts made officers feel like the city “abandoned” them:
The officers were under a lot of stress. We were understaffed, overworked. They cut pay. They lost real, I think, loyalty to the organization because they felt that the city had abandoned them. And we had a – I thought a very tragic incident: One of my officers killed himself because of the discipline here.
Lansdowne was referring to David Christopher Hall, an officer who killed himself in August 2011 while facing felony DUI and hit-and-run charges. Lansdowne said Hall was undergoing counseling at the time of his death. Lansdowne’s testimony was part of the civil case filed by Jane Doe, the final victim of former cop Anthony Arevalos, who was convicted in 2011 of soliciting sexual bribes from numerous women.
Police officers, like other city employees, took pay cuts to close a budget gap in 2009. Civilian police positions also were eliminated and sworn officers who left weren’t replaced. The department has long been one of the lowest-staffed big city agencies in the country.
Lansdowne’s comments, which haven’t previously been reported, show how deeply he believed officers were hurting because of actions taken by the city’s elected leaders and how those actions might have affected officers’ loyalty to the city they were responsible for protecting and serving. Lansdowne had argued forcefully against further police cuts in 2010 before San Diego voters rejected a half-cent sales tax hike. But he never used such personal terms in his public pleadings to describe the cuts’ effect on officers.
Lansdowne said in the deposition that problems with officers abusing alcohol were brought to his attention several times. In the wake of the misconduct problems coming to light in 2011, Lansdowne created a unit to handle officer wellness issues, among other reforms. Lansdowne retired this week following a new spate of allegations against officers. (An SDPD spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request to elaborate on Lansdowne’s deposition.)
Lansdowne told the Los Angeles Times this week he believed the department now was in a position to rebuild itself. Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer quickly chose Shelley Zimmerman, one of Lansdowne’s deputies, to replace him. A City Council vote confirming her appointment is expected next week.