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Police officers block off Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego amid protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Over the last several years, law enforcement has seen the writing on the wall.

They know the public wants change; and they’ve recognized that the best way to stave off that change is to offer surface-level assurances that they want it too.

Take, for example, the evolving response to opening up police misconduct records. Lawmakers for decades regularly introduced proposals to reform California’s intensely secret police records policies, and they were swiftly and routinely shut down by police groups who argued, absurdly, that transparency would lead to the murders of officers’ families.

But after a number of highly publicized killings by police and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, police unions changed course.

“I’m not opposed to opening records,” Brian Marvel, head of the state’s largest police union, told the Los Angeles Times when the most recent effort – which actually became law – was being debated in 2018. Yet his group did oppose the actual bill, and police agencies up and down the state sued to block its implementation. (They lost, over and over and over again.)

Marvel’s voice blanketed the radio airwaves in an unprecedented show of opposition to a bill to rein in police shootings in 2018. In the ad, he insisted that police don’t oppose all reforms – for example, they’d embraced wearing body cameras for transparency. (Nevermind that most police groups actually opposed measures that would have required officers to publicly post policies regarding the cameras’ use and to make more of the videos public.) They just happen to have issues with this measure, his plea went.

The message is always remarkably consistent: Police don’t oppose reforms, you see, they just oppose this particular reform on the table.

That’s the lens through which you should view police groups’ most recent statements asserting that they agree, in theory, with the need for several measures currently being finalized in the Legislature – yet they oppose the proposals in their current forms.

Last year, we joined with newsrooms across the state to investigate California police officers who’ve been convicted of crimes but allowed to keep their jobs. We revealed that California is one of only five states that doesn’t automatically decertify officers for misconduct.

SB 731 would do just that. Naturally, police groups say they don’t want problem cops bouncing from department to department, either – they just don’t happen to like the proposal that would stop it from happening.

“We absolutely support changing the licensing protocol and establishing a process to ensure we have only the best working as officers,” said Cal Chiefs President Eric Nuñez. But right on cue, his statement went on to … oppose the bill.

They stuck to the same script for another proposal, SB 776, which would further open up police records to public view.

“Our organizations agree in principle with what SB 731 and SB 776 are seeking to accomplish,” the Peace Officers Research Association of California, California Police Chiefs Association and California Association of Highway Patrolmen wrote in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, these two proposed bills were crafted virtually overnight and in silos – and would have unknown impacts to public safety, some of which could place both officers and members of the public in real danger.”

Just as NIMBYs have learned to couch their knee-jerk opposition to development by insisting that they support building in general, they just hate this one project, and sexists swear up and down that they’d vote for a woman president so long as it is not the particular woman running, police groups have adapted to the current climate by couching their blanket opposition to change by presenting themselves as willing partners in reform efforts.

In isolation, each of their individual quibbles might seem reasonable. (Indeed, no legislation is perfect and any group is within its right to oppose a bill.) But taken together, we should interpret these assertions for what they are: part of a well-worn playbook to block virtually every attempt at reform.

What VOSD Learned This Week

This is a fantastic, deeply reported examination of the origins of San Diego’s single-family zoning rules, and the segregated city they’ve left us with. We talked about it in-depth on this week’s podcast.

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There was some good old-fashioned political drama this week after the U-T reported a City Council candidate, Kelvin Barrios, was under investigation by the DA’s office. Barrios’ explanations of the investigations into his conduct were misleading or flat out wrong. And Council President Georgette Gómez announced she was pausing her support of Barrios’ campaign.

Speaking of political drama, we gained a better understanding of why the city pursued a lease-to-own deal with 101 Ash St. – turns out the deal before that deal played a big role.

And it’s hard to get much information about how the national political drama surrounding the U.S. Postal Service has affected operations locally – but we got conflicting accounts and some disturbing details.

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We’re headed into the thick of wildfire season, and a state watchdog says one piece of SDG&E’s wildfire mitigation plan could be a big problem.

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The California Department of Public Health substantiated only 2.8 percent of complaints against nursing homes during the first four months of the pandemic, leading to concerns that regulators aren’t policing an industry tough enough during a crisis.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

There is no pandemic to speak of, or to put on a mask for; if there ever was one, it was someone else’s fault; also, Joe Biden did not take it seriously, unlike Donald Trump, who does, and is continuing to, at his large unmasked gatherings of supporters breathing and shouting together.” – There, Alexandra Petri just summarized the convention for you.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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