Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria on election night. / Photos by Megan Wood

Countywide police brutality protests and activist demands to slash police budgets have vaulted policing and criminal justice reform into the center of the San Diego mayoral race.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria – two Democrats squaring off to be the city’s next mayor – are now laying out their visions for reform, and comparing their histories on a topic that has not been a central policy concern during either of their political careers.

Both Bry and Gloria have suggested new policies to change police practices and increase City Hall oversight of the department.

But the mayoral race’s newfound focus on criminal justice reform has also centered on the candidates’ recent histories on two prominent reform efforts: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s AB 392, which redefined when police in California could use deadly force, and a proposed November ballot measure that would create an independent oversight board for the San Diego Police Department.

Bry has said multiple times that she supported the bill first, and that Gloria only signed on to the effort once it was politically safe to do so.

Weber, though, told VOSD that Bry’s version of events is dead wrong.

“From Day One, Todd Gloria was on this bill,” said Weber, who has endorsed Gloria’s mayoral bid. “And I talked to Barbara Bry, and she was a wibble-wobble, OK?”

Proponents of the independent police commission, though, say Bry championed their effort immediately, and that Gloria betrayed their first attempt to overhaul the group in 2016.

“Todd Gloria was really the lead Council member who took that charter amendment, gutted it and instead did little more than change the (review board’s) name,” said Andrea St. Julian, president of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, who has proposed the new measure as part of the group San Diegans for Justice.

In between the dispute, Bry and Gloria are outlining what policing would look like in a city that’s catching up to the rapidly changing conversation on racial justice. Both are proposing reforms that go beyond the changes to police practicing that have been on the table previously. But both have also been cold to proposals to slash the police budget, even as other Democrats on the City Council are warming to the idea.

Weber to Bry: ‘Don’t Attack a Bill You Don’t Know Anything About’

Weber – perhaps the most recognized criminal justice reformer in the state – not only said Bry has it backward on who supported her bill first and who needed to be brought along. She also said Bry, and anyone who calls the bill watered down, doesn’t understand criminal justice reform.

Bry ran a Facebook ad touting that only she cast a vote for AB 392 “before it passed the Legislature,” referring to the City Council’s resolution supporting the bill. That vote occurred before the bill’s first Assembly vote, where Gloria supported it as well. Both occurred in May 2019, before the bill was ultimately approved in August.

“Assemblyman Gloria supported it ONLY after the police unions signed off on the revisions,” Bry later wrote. “In other words, after it was safe to do so, as he usually does.”

She recycled the attack in a tweet last week: “Support for Shirley Weber’s use of force bill? Only after it was watered down to satisfy police unions,” Bry wrote.

But in an interview, Weber said Gloria was with her since 2017, when she first proposed the measure, then known as AB 931.

“I didn’t have to twist his arm,” she said. “I didn’t have to say anything crazy. He was on the bill. He was supportive, and folks thought, ‘Oh, you really probably shouldn’t because, you know, the police are going to be mad’ …  So he was not going to gain any friends by this. And yet, he was on the bill. He was supportive. I knew he was going to vote for this bill – whether it was 931 or 392, Todd was on the bill, period.”

Before the bill’s first Assembly vote, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery and Council President Georgette Gómez told Weber they wanted to get the Council on the record on the issue before it passed. The vote carried no legal authority, but Weber and others began whipping votes, in hope the show of support from the state’s second largest city might help it pass the Legislature.

Weber said Montgomery and Gómez told her she needed to lobby some Council members who were unsure. She said she had Gloria call Councilman Chris Ward, who “eventually came across,” and she called Councilwomen Vivian Moreno and Jen Campbell, who had hesitations but got on board. Then she called Bry, who was noncommittal.

“She was not like, ‘Oh, this is a great idea,’ or, ‘Oh I haven’t had a chance to read it,’ that kind of stuff – everyone tells you that kind of stuff to give them a chance to figure out what they’re going to do,” she said.

Weber said she knew Bry’s mayoral bid had supporters in the black community, so she went to them – “I won’t tell you who they were,” she said – and told them, “I need you to talk to Barbara, to make sure she votes for it, because she’s having some hesitation.” They told Weber they’d handle it, and Bry voted for the city’s resolution.

“Now, was she from the beginning, overwhelming, enthusiastic? No,” Weber said. “Did I know I had her support from the beginning? No. She supported it in the end. Yes. Did she vote for it before Todd? Yes, but that doesn’t make her a supporter before, because of the circumstances of how this occurred. We had not taken it to the floor for the vote. It’s a petty thing to try to imply that ‘I was first to support and he was not, and he wasn’t supportive and now he only jumped on when it was really watered down and dadadada.’ That’s petty.”

By contrast, Weber said she always knew she had Gloria’s support.

“He was there from the very beginning when this bill first started, when I was being attacked by everybody and their grandmother,” she said. “I’m fighting every member for every vote. I did not fight him for a vote. His vote was solid from day one, period.”

Told of Weber’s remarks, Bry’s campaign reiterated the timeline, that she voted for the measure before the bill’s amendments and that Gloria only publicly said where he stood afterward, and referenced a Gloria tweet in which he praised Weber and police unions for striking a compromise that led them to shift from opposing the bill to being neutral on it. Gloria voted for the bill the first time he had an opportunity to do so.

She said her comments on the timing of Gloria’s support aren’t intended to diminish the accomplishment.

“It was a major accomplishment for Dr. Weber and I applaud her for the time and effort she put into it,” she said. “I’m only pointing out that a local Assembly member was not an early supporter – that’s Mr. Gloria – where other (legislators) were, starting with (Senate President Pro Tem) Toni Atkins.”

AB 392 changed the standard for when a police officer could use deadly force from when it was “reasonable” to when it was “necessary.” Police unions went from opposing the measure to neutral when it was amended to remove a definition of what counted as “necessary.” Some families of recent police shooting victims dropped their support of the bill over the changes, and argued courts would now have to determine when use of force was justified.

But Weber said it remains the strongest use-of-force bill in the country, and anyone questioning it doesn’t understand reform. Suddenly, she said, everyone considers themselves a criminal justice reformer.

“She wants to jump on the bandwagon all of a sudden, but don’t attack a bill that you don’t know anything about,” she said. “And don’t try to make it seem like it was insignificant because if it were insignificant, she wouldn’t even be mentioning it. You know, I don’t like to get into this stuff with folks because I do the work I’ve got to do, and I just keep going. I don’t have time to deal with this. These people want to make political points on things that they don’t have to. It’s not necessary to say this.”

Gloria said he stands by the result.

“The Council member likes to use this issue for political purposes, ignoring that what we were able to accomplish was historic,” he said. “My goal as majority whip was to get this done, and the results speak for themselves. California went from having one of most regressive use-of-force policies, to the most progressive. She likes to criticize me, but also the actual product, and I support that legislation and it is one that will save lives.”

Review Board Advocates: Gloria Betrayed Us

Gloria has his own fraught history with a reform measure with which he’s likely to share the ballot in November.

The measure, marshaled within City Hall by Montgomery, would replace the existing police oversight board with one that has the power to conduct independent investigations and subpoena witnesses, and its own legal counsel.

Bry criticized Gloria recently for not supporting the measure earlier. Earlier this month, as large police protests were still occurring daily, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District Attorney Summer Stephan said they supported the measure, and Bry claimed that’s when Gloria got on board, too.

“Support for an independent police review commission? Birds chirping until last week when it became politically correct,” she wrote of Gloria.

Indeed, days earlier, a political consultant working on the measure said few officials in City Hall had truly supported the measure – and listed Bry, but not Gloria, as a notable exception. Other supporters of the ballot measure have likewise emphasized that Bry supported it immediately, and Gloria did not.

Months after the measure had been proposed, however, Gloria did support the measure, during a January Voice of San Diego podcast interview, when he was asked if he supported an oversight group with “subpoena power to investigate police.”

“I support an independent review board,” Gloria said. “My understanding is this is being negotiated currently and so I look forward to what the final product will look like. I’ve been clear, I support an independent review board and I’m hopeful that we will get something on the ballot so we can address this … if approved and I’m elected, I get to be the mayor that implements it, and I look forward to doing that faithfully.”

Bry does not support cutting police funding, but says SDPD’s biggest problem is insufficient oversight from City Hall. “That’s the long-term issue, and that’s why I was an early supporter of the police review commission, in 2018,” she said.

In 2018, the same group of advocates tried to put a similar measure on the ballot. The group has said the mayor and former Council president delayed its progress through procedural moves until it was too late to qualify, but representatives say Bry’s support was never in doubt.

“Barbara – for a person from the First District, she has been amazingly good with respect to our charter amendment,” said St. Julian, who has endorsed Bry’s mayoral campaign. “She never hesitated for one second, years before other people were supporting it. She totally understood, and understood it to be the reasonable, measured and extremely effective charter amendment that it is.”

Back in 2016, St. Julian did not have the same experience with Gloria, when he was a member of the City Council. They proposed a similar ballot measure that year, too.

He took the charter amendment they proposed, she said, and stripped its increased investigative powers. St. Julian referred to the 2016 experience as “our first instance of betrayal.”

Gloria instead put Measure G on the ballot. It changed the board’s name – aiming to be more inclusive – and let the Council, not just the mayor, appoint review board members.

“The City Council didn’t become terribly involved in appointing board members,” St. Julian said. “We did still support Measure G, because we thought at least there were a couple positive changes, but it wasn’t our measure, it was Todd Gloria’s measure.”

Gloria is happy to embrace it.

He was leaving the Council in 2016, just as Bry was joining it, and put the blame on the Council after him for not exercising its new authority.

“We had the ability to do something or to do nothing,” he said. “I was interested in pushing it as far as I could at that time. It’s common in this work that you can’t get everything you want, so you do your best to make as much progress as you can, then come back to do more. It’s what’s happening now with the new measure, which will need to be implemented, and then there will need to be more work after that. My record of having interest in this before our current circumstances shows I am.”

Geneviéve Jones-Wright, the vice president of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, whose 2018 district attorney campaign pre-empted many current conversations on criminal justice, also said Bry won her support when she embraced the 2018 ballot measure push.

“Bry had done in-depth analysis, but more than that, she listened to the people pushing this thing,” Jones-Wright said. “She didn’t understand personally what our community has faced, but she listened to us as humans and then understood it was better for all of San Diego. For me, I don’t care what color you are. If you are silent on the issues that need to be addressed, I can’t support you.”

Both candidates expect the measure to pass, and say getting the commission up and running will be a priority. Bry said she would launch a national search for a director, then then fund the commission so it can complete significant investigations. “i would get that person in place, then acknowledge this group does have the authority and I will listen to what this group recommends,” she said.

Gloria said the next mayor’s job is to appoint board members and staff and fund the commission, calling it a “cost effective way to build transparency and trust.” He called a blanket commitment to implement punishments recommended by the board “a bit irresponsible” but said “it should be built in a way that its findings could be supported and implemented.”

Shaping a Criminal Justice Reform Agenda

Bry and Gloria – in Union-Tribune op-eds and individual interviews – say reform, not decreased police spending, is the best way to address systemic racism and police brutality.

Both also said there’s clear evidence SDPD engages in racial profiling, after studies from SDSU, and data analysis by the ACLU and Voice of San Diego showed SDPD stops black people at higher rates than whites, and searches them more often, despite finding contraband on them less often.

Taking a fresh look at what SDPD officers are asked to police, Bry said, would be a first step of her administration.

“There’s been something called mission creep,” she said. “Homeless outreach, truancy, there are many things we ask officers to do that they don’t have the training to do or to be expected to do. You would determine what you need, what skills you need, it would be a whole reassessment of the department. I don’t have a pre-set number in mind of the correct number of police officers.”

In her statement after voting to increase SDPD’s budget by $27 million amid activist requests to cut it by $100 million, she said her commitment to neighborhood policing requires “recruiting more officers” who are committed to restoring trust in the department.

She said she’d couple that with increased training in de-escalation strategies and restorative justice.

“I would re-think the way the police force operates,” she said.

That’s not a far cry from Gloria.

He said the city needs to end the criminalization of homelessness – he cited his opposition to a city ordinance against people living in their cars in neighborhoods that Bry supported – and police responses to mental health calls.

Making those changes could result in budget savings, he said, but changes like recruiting better officers and fully implementing an independent review board could increase costs.

“I don’t know if it would be lower, but I believe it would be different,” he said. “Let me be clear, we have to have law enforcement, we have to have guardians in the community to protect residents. But it’s clear from what going on that we could do a much better job at that work, and we must. … Where we end up as a whole number, I don’t know, but I’d be willing to engage that conversation and show that as the community demands change, that we’re listening.”

In recent years, the Council and the mayor have focused on increasing police compensation so the department could hire more officers and return to “community policing,” a policing model that calls for increased police presence in neighborhoods so officers are proactively interacting with communities, rather than only responding to emergencies.

Gloria maintains that returning to community policing remains a good goal for the city. Growing up here, he said he remembers when most neighborhoods had police storefronts and people knew their community officer.

“It is not fair to say that’s what we do today,” he said. “Those reductions were budget-driven, so that fits into the conversation about funding.”

Bry likewise said the city needs to “reinvest in community-based public safety.”

Gloria has been endorsed by the Police Officers Association, which donated $5,000 to a political action committee supporting him.That happened long before the San Diego Democratic Party, which has also endorsed him, passed a new resolution this week calling on candidates not to seek endorsements from the police union.

“The obstacle in most of these instances is the police union,” Bry said, arguing the union’s support of Gloria would hinder his attempts to pursue reforms, citing its roles in the independent review board and AB 392 issues as evidence.

Gloria said he thinks his relationship with law enforcement will make it easier, not harder, to pursue reforms.

“(The POA) certainly raises concerns; the question is whether you listen to their concern,” he said, recalling a bill he authored intended to demilitarize police departments that the union opposed, before former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. “I’ve always been straight up and honest with them. And sometimes I agree, and sometimes I disagree.”

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

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