The Mayor and the San Diego Police Department Fail to Address CAB Concerns

Dec 16, 2019

We read with interest the November 18th response from Jeffrey Jordon to the April 22nd recommendations from the Citizen’s Advisory Board on Police/Community Relations.  We understand that the SDPD will be explaining its response at the December 16th meeting of the CAB.  

There is a lot that we don’t like in the SDPD’s response.  We might, for example, have complained about it taking SEVEN MONTHS to respond at all.  We might have complained that the response was sent just before the Thanksgiving Holiday, when it was most likely to go ignored.  It’s possible that we would have complained about the quote that was put in Shelley Zimmerman’s mouth, which was inaccurate and does not convey the evasive words she actually used.  

We might have asked for a different response than “inapplicable” to the request to reduce staffing of the Gang Suppression Unit.  We might have remarked at the Gang Suppression Unit being renamed the “Special Operations Unit” when it might more properly have been renamed the “Harassment of Black and Brown Youth and Adult Unit.”

We might have asked for a more meaningful response to calling for a moratorium on “pretext stops” (also known as “Driving-While-Black Stops”) than having you quote court cases that indicate the practice is legal, however counterproductive and oppressive it may be.

We might have been incredulous at the SDPD’s disingenuous inability to understand what a “Beat” system is.

We might, in fact, have gone on to comment and the second half of the response, which is as full of defensiveness, obstructionism and mendacity as the first half.

However, we see no need to refute the SDPD’s self-justification paragraph by paragraph and word by word.  Instead, we would like to point the Mayor, Chief Nisleit, and the TRUE author of the response, City Attorney Mara Elliot, to the recent report by Campaign Zero.

This report can be found at policescorecard.org/sandiego.  It is not a pretty thing, and we think it more proper to comment on it than on the latest accountability whitewash to issue from 1200 Third Avenue.  Here are some excerpts:

San Diego police were 44% more likely to search Latinx people and 133% more likely to search black people than white people during a routine traffic stop – especially for equipment violations.

Chief Nisleit, your “anti-bias” training is not working.

San Diego police and sheriff’s departments were more likely to search black and Latinx people during routine traffic stops, they were less likely to find contraband during these searches. This suggests both departments are over-searching people in general, with little to no public safety benefit, while engaging in biased policing towards communities of color in particular.

Chief Nisleit, your pretext stops are not contributing to public safety.

[B]lack people were 4.1x more likely than white people to be arrested by SDPD for drug possession, despite research showing black and white people use and sell drugs at similar rates. Both agencies made as many arrests for drug possession alone as they did for all Part 1 Violent and Property Crimes combined.

Excuse us; Chief Nisleit, your biased pretext stops are not contributing to public safety.

Chief Nisleit and the SDPD are justifiably proud of the reduction in San Diego of violent crimeand we admit to being gratified that San Diego is one of the safest large cities for most of the population.  We wonder, however, if those statistics need to be adjusted based on violent crime committee BY the SDPD in the normal course of their duties. For example:

San Diego police used force at a higher rate than 95% of California law enforcement agencies in our analysis.

The San Diego Police Department is a source of violence in our City.

Between 2016-2018, San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department were more likely to use force against black people, even after controlling for arrest rates. … San Diego police were 172% more likely to use force against people perceived to have mental disabilities during a stop …. This suggests there are serious issues regarding [the SDPD’s] interactions with black people and people with disabilities.

Naturally, the violence Chief Nisleit oversees is worse against black folks and disabled folks.

On average, when SDPD uses force against black people they use a level of force 1.3x more severe than when using force against white people. 

Chief Nisleit, not only is violence more frequent, but it is also more severe when African-Americans are involved.

Now, here is something else we agree with:

When civilians came forward to report police misconduct, it rarely led to accountability in San Diego. Of 226 civilian complaints of San Diego Police Department conduct in 2016 and 2017, only 11% were ruled in favor of civilians. Moreover, complaints alleging the most serious misconduct were never sustained. For example, of 21 civilian complaints of police discrimination, 75 use of force complaints and 2 complaints alleging criminal misconduct, none of these complaints were sustained.

Everyone except the Mayor and the SDPD have been calling for the CRB to be replaced with a truly independent citizen body pushing for accountability.  Of course, the SDPD sees the CRB with the same rose-colored glasses through which it views its own conduct.

The Campaign Zero report, for which we are very grateful, goes on to make some common-sense recommendations.  By and large, we concur with their recommendations, as well as the recommendations made by the CAB. While we will be vocal about suggesting solutions at the right time, there really is no point in recommending medicine to a department that sees itself as healthy.

We call on Mayor Faulconer and Chief Nisleit, not to mention City Attorney Mara Elliott, to finally admit that the SDPD is in need of a fundamental new direction and fundamental reform.  Once they admit they have a problem, we stand ready to collaborate with them in devising and implementing solutions, as well as convincing our community to give the SDPD another chance, once the reforms are in place.

We doubt that we will get there with the current administration.  We hope this coming election brings someone into the Mayor’s office who actually cares about people who are not wealthy and white.  We look forward to a productive relationship with such a Mayor.

Francine Maxwell, First Vice President
NAACP San Diego Branch