The top responsibility for local government is public safety. San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is set to retire in March, and the city has already begun the process of choosing her successor. The city has spent several weeks gathering public input on priorities for our next chief, and will soon embark on a publicly funded, nationwide search to identify the best candidates for the job.
Like Zimmerman, our next chief will be the leader of local law enforcement. This individual will be tasked with addressing some of SDPD’s biggest challenges, such as shaping the department’s culture during a time when community-police relations need improvement in some neighborhoods, training and deploying officers to serve and protect our diverse city and developing a strategy to recruit and retain quality police officers.
With Zimmerman’s retirement, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is faced with a critical opportunity to build and strengthen the trust between the community and law enforcement for years to come, and it’s critical we get it right.
This week, the city concluded six community forums across San Diego to elicit comments and feedback from the community as to what qualities and characteristics they hoped to see in the next police chief. In a recent KPBS interview, forum facilitator Danell Scarborough said that a common theme among the forums was transparency in both the selection process and leadership style of the next chief.
But as far as we know, the mayor’s current plan still includes a secret hiring panel, which will not disclose its members to the public until the process is over. That would mean that the only opportunity for the public to participate in this process was at one of six community forums or by completing an online survey that closes Oct. 13.
We cannot leave San Diegans in the dark as to the make-up of the panel, which will inform the mayor’s decision on our next police chief. This falls short of an open and transparent process needed to build trust among our communities. Listening to the community’s feedback, the mayor must work with the City Council to establish a hiring process that is more open to the public and includes diverse community stakeholders.
It’s encouraging that the same consultant who worked on the hiring of Seattle’s police chief, Bob Murray & Associates, has been selected as the hiring firm in San Diego. In Seattle, the firm demonstrated the capacity to administer an open and transparent process, and so we can expect the same here.
The mayor should listen to the community and make every step of the hiring process open and transparent.
In order to ensure the process for selecting our next police chief is as open and transparent as possible, the search panel must include representatives from the Gang Commission, Citizens Advisory Board on Police/Community Relations, Community Review Board on Police Practices, and Human Relations Commission. There should also be youth representation and a clear reflection of San Diego’s full diversity on the panel.
A process can be developed that is appropriate for San Diego, while also respecting the confidentiality and integrity of the search. Other cities, like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles engaged residents in meaningful ways, fostering stronger trust in the outcome. In fact, the processes most praised were the most transparent, open and community-centered. Those city leaders understood that including the community voice in the process increased trust with law enforcement; something desperately needed in San Diego.
It is critical to have an open, transparent and community-centered process for selecting the next police chief. These are the values we hope our next chief will model for the Police Department and the public at large, and this should be how the next chief is selected.
Georgette Gómez, Barbara Bry, David Alvarez and Christopher Ward are members of the San Diego City Council. Their commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.