Mayor Kevin Faulconer appears at a press conference announcing SDPD’s decision to end the use of chokeholds. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Mayor Kevin Faulconer appears at a press conference announcing SDPD’s decision to end the use of chokeholds. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Mayor Kevin Faulconer pledged Monday to support a proposed November ballot measure that would overhaul oversight and accountability for the San Diego Police Department.

The measure would form an independent body with sweeping powers to investigate alleged misconduct by SDPD officers. It has not yet qualified for the ballot but would be among the most significant police reforms enacted in San Diego if it wins voter approval.

“I look forward to giving it my full support,” Faulconer said at a press conference where SDPD announced it would no longer use choke holds to detain suspects.

The measure, pushed by a group calling itself San Diegans for Justice, would create a commission with investigators independent of the police chief, and subpoena power over officers, witnesses and documents. It would be represented by legal counsel that does not represent the city or SDPD, and would be modeled after the Ethics Commission, which oversees campaign finance and lobbying in the city and is independent from the rest of City Hall.

The new body – the Commission on Police Practices – would replace an existing Community Review Board on Police Practices, which does not have subpoena power or independent legal counsel, and must rely on SDPD’s internal affairs investigations when it considers allegations of misconduct.

The San Diego Police Officers Association, SDPD’s union, has opposed the oversight reform since it was proposed in 2018, when it died before reaching the ballot. Last year, when Councilwoman Monica Montgomery championed the measure – after it was proposed by Women Occupy San Diego and Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association – the police union blasted it, calling it poorly written and ineffective at achieving reform.

The measure can’t qualify for the ballot until the city negotiates with the POA in the city’s formal meet-and-confer process, determining whether it affects the union’s collectively bargained agreement with the city. After that process is complete, it will go back to the full City Council for a vote that would place it on the ballot. It needs to qualify for the ballot by August.

Faulconer said Monday the measure would reach the November ballot.

“That is moving forward, it will be on the ballot,” he said. “We’ve been having a lot of very good, productive conversations with our Police Officers’ Association.”

Montgomery, who won an outsider’s bid for City Council against former Council President Myrtle Cole in part based on her promise to enact the oversight reform, was part of Monday’s press conference and was standing alongside SDPD Chief David Nisleit when Faulconer pledged to support the ballot measure.

“He’s supportive, and we’re grateful for any support we can get,” Montgomery said. “It is a good measure, it is a strong measure, it gives the community the things that community groups and members have been asking for for years, and also builds their trust. So I’m grateful that the mayor is supportive of it, that he’s gone on the record publicly for it, and we’ll see what the voters say in November.”

Faulconer is not the only high-profile politician to come out in favor of the ballot measure in recent days, as San Diego and cities across the country deal with protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and anger over violence by police against people of color.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher announced on Twitter Monday that he joined San Diegans for Justice in calling for the independent Commission on Police Practices. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said Saturday that she endorsed the measure, and thought she had already done so months ago.

That statement came in response to comments by Eva Posner, a campaign strategist pushing the measure, in which she said it was a foregone conclusion that the measure would qualify for the ballot and would win the support of the San Diego County Democratic Party and challenged Democrats running for office in November to get on board now. She said Council President Georgette Gómez, Councilwoman Barbara Bry, Rep. Scott Peters and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber had been valuable supporters.

“Everyone else— and I do mean EVERY other elected official— has been noncommittal at best, flat out ignoring us most of the time, or actively antagonistic on the other end of the spectrum,” Posner wrote.

Adriana Heldiz contributed to this report.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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