This story has been updated.
A November 2020 ballot measure aimed at overhauling police oversight in San Diego passed easily, but implementing it has been anything but simple.
Measure B, which won 75 percent of voter support, promised to create the Commission on Police Practices, an independent board of citizen volunteers with a professional staff who investigate allegations of police officer misconduct and in-custody deaths and recommend policy overhauls, among other things.
The city’s previous oversight board lacked investigatory powers and could only review the department’s own Internal Affairs investigations.
But exactly how the new commission will operate has been a subject of debate for months. While Measure B broadly described the commission’s powers and duties, the City Council must pass an ordinance that details everything from who can be on the commission to what information the police department is required to provide commissioners.
Before that final vote, the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee must sign off on a draft ordinance.
In the nearly 14 months since Measure B’s passage, that hasn’t happened.
A draft ordinance released last June disappointed advocates pushing for more robust oversight, and was sent back for revisions. But a second draft released last week also falls short, advocates say. That draft is scheduled to be reviewed by the committee Friday afternoon.
“It’s not ready,” said Andrea St. Julian, attorney and co-chair of San Diegans for Justice, who authored Measure B, at a community forum held virtually on Tuesday evening. “We have a real battle on our hands with this new proposed ordinance.”
Advocates acknowledge that the recent draft is closer to what they wanted, but there remain several nagging issues. Key among them are how commissioners will be appointed, and language in the ordinance that would ban anyone who’s been convicted of a felony from serving on the commission.
“The community wanted all exclusions based on someone’s criminal record out so that people who had a history could serve on this commission,” said Patrick Anderson, an interim commissioner, at the community forum.
City Councilwoman Monice Montgomery-Steppe’s office has been supervising the drafting of the ordinance. Her chief of staff, Henry Foster, told Voice of San Diego that the felony exclusion was included because it’s “typically standard hiring language.”
“With that said,” he added, “more changes are coming as we continue to receive feedback from the community and stakeholders to this draft.”
Foster said the new draft was released a week before the committee meeting to give the community time to provide feedback. But advocates disagree, saying they had to scramble to schedule meetings to review the draft.
Brandon Hilpert, an interim commissioner, told Foster at a meeting last Friday that it felt like the community was again being ignored.
“This is the lack of transparency the community hated last time and you’re doing it again,” Hilpert said, referring to issues with the ordinance’s first draft.
The recent draft gives the City Council the authority to fill 18 of the commission’s 25 seats by appointing two people from each of the nine council districts. Two seats would be filled by youth appointees aged 18 to 24. For the remaining five seats, “the Council must appoint five members who reside in and represent those city residents living in low- and moderate-income” census tracts, the draft says.
Measure B’s proponents say this is very different from what they proposed months ago: one seat per council district, two youth seats and 14 at-large seats, open to people with experience with issues that often intersect with law enforcement, such as addiction, mental illness or homelessness. Advocates also want the commission to include people from communities that experience disproportionate rates of police contact. Multiple studies have shown that San Diego police officers are more likely to stop and search people of color than White people.
“We conducted months of research on San Diego Police Department data and on the composition of similar commissions facing similar issues across California,” Anderson said. “This recommendation [for appointing commissioners] was also based on numerous community forums and a large amount of community feedback.”
St. Julian said that while she wants to see the new commission up and running — an original goal was to have an ordinance in place last July — she doesn’t want it to be pushed through without full community support, and that includes seeing a new draft ordinance.
“Let’s have (the committee) make all these changes and let us look at it again,” she said.
Update: After this story was posted, the city released a new draft ordinance that included changes the community had requested, including how commissioners will be appointed. The new draft says each City Council member will appoint one commissioner, there will be two youth commissioners and nine at-large commissioners “prioritizing the appointment of individuals who have had prior contact or interactions with law enforcement; individuals with experience or expertise in substance abuse addiction treatment; individuals involved in services for or directed towards the unhoused; individuals involved or with expertise in immigration or migrant services; individuals who were or are criminal justice system impacted; individuals involved or with expertise in mental health, restorative justice, or social work; and individuals with experience or expertise in civil rights advocacy.”