Urgent culture changes needed at Fire-Rescue

January 18, 2021

Councilmember LaCava
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Council President Campbell
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Whitburn
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Montgomery Steppe
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Von Wilpert
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Cate
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Campillo
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Moreno
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Elo-Rivera
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Mayor Todd Gloria
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Dear Mayor and Members of the San Diego City Council,

In light of the insurrection at our Nation’s Capitol, it should be clear to all that the words and symbols of the alt-right and white supremacists are not merely empty threats and crackpot grumbling.  Instead, they are clearly an indicator of violence and hate-crime waiting to happen.

And yet, the symbols embraced by this movement are tolerated, and in some cases explicitly endorsed and permitted, by San Diego Fire-Rescue on equipment and at firehouses. 

The following symbols and displays have been reported to us as present in firehouses and on equipment:

Thin Blue Line/Blue Lives Matter Flag

While we understand that the ostensible purpose of this symbol is to honor the risk and sacrifice of peace officers in the line of duty, it has been taken up by white supremacists and is thus tainted.  While we also honor our peace officers for the risk they willingly take, this flag has always been a poor choice of symbol.  Its underlying message is not one of unity, but of division; peace officers as a “thin blue line” protecting “us” from “them.”  We can see from the different treatment of the insurrectionists and Black Lives Matter protestors who are most often perceived as “us” and “them.”

In a move with which we disagree, this symbol was explicitly permitted by the department, albeit as a temporary measure only.  It has remained on display long past the permitted time, and needs to be removed.

The Gadsen Flag

The yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag (known as the “Gadsen Flag”) is a popular symbol of the far-right and white supremacist forces that attacked the Capitol.  It should not be permitted on equipment or in firehouses, and yet we have evidence of its presence on equipment.

A Cornucopia of Racist Images

Beside the two symbols, numerous racist images are permitted in firehouses.  Black men and women are depicted as:

  • Stupid
  • Oversexualized
  • Overweight
  • Drug dealers
  • Ridiculous (not to mention the ableism and sexism on display)

[Not all images shown; more available on request.]

Such offensive images of persons of any race are best kept out of firehouses altogether. When a population that is overwhelmingly white uses offensive images that are overwhelmingly black, the message is clear.

This is all the more troubling since a firehouse is a place where people both live and work, in close contact for long periods of time.  A hostile firehouse is not only a hostile work environment, but it is a hostile living environment.  This takes a psychic toll on every firefighter who is not white and male.

This psychic toll only increases when management dismisses the concerns of whistleblowers. Responses such as “we don’t get involved in disputes between employees” are extremely damaging.  This damage is increased when such whistleblowers, whether they make informal complaints or formal ones through EEIO, receive immediate backlash from their co-workers (a sign, perhaps, of management collusion) and lack of opportunity within the department.  

We have previously written to you about addressing the situation at Fire-Rescue.  The culture at Fire-Rescue is not a matter that can wait.  We request you work immediately with the leadership of Fire-Rescue to show bolder leadership and implement policies and procedures to address the toxicity in the departmental culture.

Urgently,

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Achieving Equity in San Diego Fire-Rescue

December 16, 2020

Councilmember LaCava
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Campbell
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Whitburn
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Montgomery Steppe
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Von Wilpert
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Cate
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Campillo
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Moreno
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Councilmember Elo-Rivera
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Mayor Todd Gloria
City Administration Building
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Dear Mayor and Members of the San Diego City Council,

We at the NAACP San Diego Branch look forward to the coming term, and we congratulate those among you who are newly elected.  Many of you have promised to address our City’s longstanding problems with race and gender equity.  As San Diego residents and experienced public servants, you know the inner workings of the City of San Diego as well as the depth of its problems..  Now is the time to affirm your promises, by applying your knowledge and skills to solve these problems.

We have received several complaints from current and former members of the City’s Fire-Rescue department regarding departmental culture and practices that reduce equity and thereby harm the employees, the department, and the community they serve.  

We have also been informed that Captain Shanley is putting together a committee including both Fire-Rescue and Community members, to address diversity within the Department.  Such an effort is exactly what is needed.  Based on the information we have available to us, we would like to see a focus on five areas:

  1. Employment Equity: Demonstrate equity in hiring, advancement and disability
  2. Culture: eliminate toxic elements and encourage positive elements
  3. Whistleblowers – Encourage, protect, and restore them
  4. Public Equity – Increase investment in and respect for communities of color
  5. Results – Honest quantitative assessment of progress or lack thereof

Allow us to further explain:

  1. Employment Equity

We have received complaints about all aspects of your employment equity regarding race and gender.  For example, credible allegations have been made about the lack of black female firefighters, the small number of black supervisors, and racial discrimination from the San Diego City Employees Retirement System regarding disability.

  1. Culture

We have been told:

  • Firehouses are not inclusive environments for African-Americans and women, and that racist and sexist language is not uncommon 
  • Management looks the other way at racially offensive political symbols  
  • There is gender-based tension in the department 
  • Management promotes a “fit-in” culture, rather than one of true belonging.
  1. Whistleblowers

Sound management understands that whistleblowers, aka employees that complain over improper practices, are of incredible value to an organization.  We have been told that complaints are openly minimized when received, not followed up on, and result in both subtle and overt retaliation.

  1. Public Equity

Why is Station #48 on Skyline Drive is still not under construction, when Station #50 in University City is already open?  Beside that obvious issue, we also have complaints regarding disrespectful comments by department management regarding lower income communities and communities of color.

  1. Results

We are not looking for “efforts” or “programs” or “initiatives” or “training.”  While these are all fine things, what we are looking for are results.  We expect to see department metrics comparing where we are now with where we are after remedies are applied.  

Please start by:

  • Providing the data on disability outcomes by race that we have requested and were denied (Public Records Act request #20-3001).
  • Launching an immediate assessment of the current situation in regard to equity, culture, and the treatment of complaints.  This should include, but not be limited to, a departmental survey and solicitation for community input.

We expect that you will show bold leadership in response to these requests.  The events of this year have laid bare the systemic racism that still plagues our society, as the #MeToo movement before it brought systemic gender discrimination to the public attention.  Now is the time to address these equity issues.

If addressing these issues only affected women and people of color, that would be more than enough reasons for action.  However, lack of equity hurts all genders and ethnicities.  Every time our society denies someone the opportunity to make a contribution because of their gender, race or sexual preference, it diminishes what we as a society can achieve.

We stand ready to assist in any way we can.

We know that your 100-day agenda will be full.  However, within the next 50 days, we ask that you provide us a blueprint for action , provide us the data we have asked for and initiate the departmental assessment.

Thank you,

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

San Diego Fire Rescue’s social media reveals flaws

[This letter has been corrected.]

December 4, 2020

We are pleased to see that San Diego Fire and Rescue is using social media as a recruiting tool, and we are pleased to see both women and people of color being represented in their media.  Nonetheless, some of their posts serve to illustrate grave problems in the Department.

Let’s start with this one (you can find the original here: instagram.com/p/CGnrNQZhJ-8):

We’re happy to see women firefighters, and most especially an African-American woman.  Sadly, that firefighter, Pamela Thomas, has retired.  Her retirement leaves San Diego Fire-Rescue with ZERO sworn African-American female firefighters.

Furthermore, all the African-American female firefighters the department has had were hired under its African-American fire chiefs.  The white fire chiefs have hired just one, and she was let go before the end of her probationary period.

San Diego Fire-Rescue needs to do better in its hiring, training, retention and culture.

Speaking of failures in leadership, while we are again pleased to see a female firefighter, Meredith Muecke, featured in this post (instagram.com/p/CEhXFodBK6M):

we would like to know why the probationary firefighter is following departmental COVID-19 mask policy, but her Captain is not.

We know that leadership is critical in getting people to wear masks to protect one another from COVID-19.  We know how the abysmal failure of another leader to set an example for our citizens has resulted in tens or hundreds of thousands of needless deaths.  Why, then, is an SDFR Captain not wearing a mask?  Does he care so little for the health of his firefighters?  Is he making an on-the-job political statement?  What does he do when he interacts with the public?  Does he show similar disregard for their health?  What does it say to a new firefighter when she follows a policy and her Captain does not?  Are rules only for the rank-and-file?  Only for women?

We need not only bolder leadership in San Diego Fire and Rescue, we need BETTER leadership.  This is simply not a path to a diverse, successful department.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Corrections: in the first version of this letter, we said there were no sworn female firefighters left, and that no African-American firefighters had been hired under white chiefs. In each instance, we should have said “African-American female firefighters.” This has been corrected above.

SDPD Enforcement of Solid Mask Policy

November 18, 2020

Chief David Nisleit
San Diego Police Department
1401 Broadway Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

Dear Chief Nisleit,

We are writing to express our concerns with regards to on-duty San Diego Police Officers wearing Thin Blue Line facial coverings, as well as officers lacking facial coverings while on duty. Both of these actions violate Department regulations, and negatively affect the communities these officers serve. We are writing as concerned members of the public, as well as members of the NAACP San Diego Branch. 

SDPD Policy Manual (9.14) states that on-duty officers may not “Engage in any political activity during working hours or in any City work area”. The Thin Blue Line mask is a direct political response to the recent Black Lives Matter Movement. While we appreciate the intent of the Thin Blue Line / Blue Lives Matter campaign, this symbol serves to further incite division and hostility within our community. When the Thin Blue Line mask is worn during law enforcement activities (while writing citations, conducting searches, supervising protests, etc) it creates fear, intimidation, and distrust, further isolating law enforcement officers from the community. It also goes against the police chief directive to only wear solid color masks. 

This dynamic also threatens the intent of The Non-Biased Policing Policy (9.31 of the SDPD Policy Manual): “The Department’s commitment to non-bias based policing includes providing all members with ongoing training related to biases, including implicit, overt, and bias by proxy, and all members are expected to understand their negative impacts on policing.” The Thin Blue Line mask does not reflect a Department that respects or embraces non-biased policing practices. 

The lack of facial covering worn by SDPD on-duty officers directly impacts the safety of the community. By further exposing individuals to the coronavirus, and by reflecting the notion that masks are not necessary, the SDPD does not fulfill its mission to protect and serve. By resisting basic safety precautions (such as wearing a mask while on duty) SDPD fails to offer its citizens the service they are entitled to as citizens. This resistance to wearing a mask also creates a negative example to the public. 

For the sake of transparency and improved safety to our public, please respond to the below questions: 

Have SDPD officers been counselled against the display of political symbols and messages while on duty? Have you addressed the Thin Blue Line masks? 

Who is enforcing the requirement that SDPD officers wear masks while on duty? Is there a standard procedure to check uniforms and appearance before each shift?  

We appreciate your response and proposed resolutions as we continue to explore the opportunities of a better connection between law enforcement and the public. 

Sincerely,

Citizens Justice Committee
NAACP San Diego Branch

Justice for All

October 25, 2020

The last words we say as we pledge allegiance to the flag are: “with liberty and justice for all.” Belief in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance are a basic part of learning citizenship as a child. History continues to show us that the legal system does not always apply justice equally—and apparently that is especially true if your mother or father is a judge.

Today’s case in point is the ex-La Jolla Country Day Teacher, Jonathan Sammartino, who recently ONLY received probation for having sexual relations with a minor student. Mr. Sammartino’s crimes had him facing up to one year in local custody and the requirement to register as a sex offender. Interestingly enough, Sammartino had previously faced two additional  felony sex counts that could have had him facing prison time. Those counts were dismissed after he plead guilty to this count in August 2020. His mother just happens to be U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino.

According to The San Diego District Attorney’s office, Jonathan Sammartino plead guilty to violating Penal Code 261.5, unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (statutory rape.) Under this section, the judge has discretion over whether to order a defendant to register as a sex offender, regardless of the age difference. The District Attorney’s office requested that the defendant be required to register per Penal Code 290.006, but the judge exercised his discretion and declined to order the defendant to register. While this section of the Penal Code allows discretion, a judge is also required to state the reasons for his or her findings on the record. In declining to impose sex offender registration in the Sammartino case, Judge Rogers cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that found registration was most suited for those considered dangerous and likely to reoffend. The judge also exercised his sentencing discretion in granting probation.

In the midst of the growth of sex crimes involving our children, how can we continue to allow this degree of sexual immorality with such inequitable sentencing? Anyone else who committed such a grievous crime against an under-aged youth would have at a minimum been required to register as a sex offender. 

Mr. Sammartino does not hold a teaching credential but rather a doctoral degree. If he did hold a credential, he would have had to surrender it and never be allowed to teach again. The defense claims that Mr. Sammartino “pledged he will not seek to teach anywhere … and that means anywhere at any level in any way, including private tutoring, including college instruction or community college.”  Who can believe this? He had already been accused of committing two acts of sexual misconduct prior to this one!

It is not a stretch to conclude that his pattern of behavior clearly demonstrates that he is likely to reoffend. Unfortunately, if he does, because his mother is a judge, he may be allowed to walk away yet again.

There is no mention of him seeking therapy for his sexual disorder and, because he is granted probation, he will never really pay for the crimes he committed against impressionable young people. What or who will stop him from doing this again in another setting where young women are gathered?

Where is the justice for all? 

Do the right thing Mr. Sammartino—register as a sex offender!  At least get some help for your addiction. Don’t ruin another young woman’s life with your dereliction. Anyone who has a conscience would!

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Congratulations to La Mesa on Community Police Oversight Board

October 15, 2020

The NAACP San Diego Branch would like to extend its sincerest congratulations and thanks to the citizens of La Mesa on the approval of the new Community Police Oversight Board!  It was united citizen action that got the board approved; this is what true civic engagement looks like.  You have made your city a safer place for all by your action.

Now that you’ve taken such a great first step, rise up and press on!  Be the voice for your neighbors, and demand a transparent, nationwide search for your next Police Chief.  Demand that your elected officials involve you in every step they take.  Demand that you be a full partner in reimagining your police force, and reshaping it into a model for what police forces in our area need to become.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

We are Extremely Disappointed in Gov. Newsom’s Ethnic Studies Veto

October 5, 2020

The NAACP San Diego Branch is extremely disappointed that Gov. Newsom vetoed AB 331 (Medina), which would have required school districts to require a semester of ethnic studies as a graduation requirement beginning in the 2029-30 school year, and delete the current requirement as required schools to offer an elective course on ethnic studies as a social science or English elective.

The governor stated that he vetoed the bill because the model ethnic studies curricula has not yet been adopted by the State Board Of Education. NAACP San Diego branch believes there would be ample time to complete the adoption process between now and 2020 and the 2029-30 school year. The California Department of Education and the State Board of Education have accomplished considerable work already. An implementation date would have given increased motivation to complete the adoption of an ethnic studies curriculum.

The NAACP San Diego Branch, in addition to being extremely disappointed, is also perplexed because the governor signed AB 1460 this year. This bill by Assemblymember Weber requires all California State University campuses to offer ethnic studies and require completion of a three-unit course on ethnic studies as a graduation requirement.

The NAACP San Diego branch has responded to numerous incidents of racial discrimination and intimidation in area schools. A common threat in these incidents is a lack of knowledge and understanding about the experiences and cultures that make up the fabric of San Diego County communities. In addition, our branch seeks to increase student achievement of all students, especially black/African-American students.

Assemblymember Medina and the bill’s supporters presented significant, credible information that well-designed ethnic studies programs have produced “… Positive academic and social outcomes for students.” There was also a Stanford University study about ethnic studies in the San Francisco Unified School District that showed an association with an increase in student attendance and an increase in grade point average.

The NAACP San Diego Branch demands that the governor and the legislature do what is necessary to get a model ethnic studies curriculum adopted so that California students can benefit from the knowledge and experience this curriculum would provide. Get it done.

Brian A. Bonner, First Vice President
NAACP San Diego Branch

SDPD, CRB Greenlight Violent Arrests for “Walking a Dog While Black”

September 27, 2020

As President of the San Diego Branch of the NAACP, it is my responsibility to be on the lookout for and respond to racism, discrimination, and violations of human and civil rights.

That brought me to the case of a young woman walking her dog on a public beach.  I have written about this case before, back in May, when it occurred.  To recap:

An African-American woman was walking her unleashed dog on a section of the beach where unleashed dogs were permitted, but only at certain times of day.  We have no report that this particular unleashed dog had caused any harm at all.  When she refused to leash her dog, the lifeguards, rather than call animal control or simply let her go on her way, felt the need to call the police.

As for the officers of the San Diego Police Department, they also had choices available to them.  They could have called animal control.  They could have given the woman a citation and let her go.  They chose to cuff her instead.  When she tried to walk away, they apprehended her violently, slamming her to the ground three times, knees in her back, and kicking the poor dog that tried to come to her rescue.

The video may be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiZzTnXLWHU.

At the time, we filed a complaint with the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices, as residents are encouraged to do.  This week, we received a reply, both from the SDPD’s Internal Affairs unit and from the CRB.

Let’s take the SDPD’s response first.  They determined our complaints about unnecessary force, bad decisions and the bias that likely led to them were:

“Exonerated.”  “Exonerated.”  “Exonerated.”  “Unfounded.”  “Unfounded.”  “Unfounded.”  “Unfounded.”

In other words, body slamming and brutalizing this young woman and her dog was a perfectly appropriate response to her walking her dog without a leash at the wrong time of day.  Clearly, the treatment of black women does not matter to the SDPD.

What did the supposed voice of the people, the CRB, say in their report?  Did they bring sanity and accountability to the process?  Let’s see:

“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”

We will say that the CRB did find that the paperwork proper to the brutalization of a young woman for walking her dog without a leash at the wrong time was not correctly filed by one of the officers.

Law Enforcement in San Diego needs a sense of urgency.  There need to be intentional conversations taking place to stop these incidents from occurring, not just reflexive justifications and denials of the wrongs that continue to be done. Each of these incidents only increases the racial tensions in our City, the San Diego Police Department needs a cultural shift, and we need policies and procedures to accelerate that cultural shift.

All of this also underlines the absolute necessity for Measure B, which will bring some degree of independence to citizen oversight.  The current CRB, with no investigators, no subpoena power and no legal counsel (except the same ones who defend the police) can hardly be expected to be able to do more than rubber stamp the decisions of Internal Affairs.  We know there are people of good will on the CRB, but they are prevented from having a positive effect by a CRB that is deliberately hamstrung by the City, the City Attorney, and the Police Unions to which the City so meekly submits.

So long as the Mayor and City Council fail to show leadership to control the SDPD, so long as they continue to let the SDPD have its way with the residents of our City, stronger citizen oversight is an absolute MUST to protect life and dignity within the city limits.

On November 4th, vote for bolder leadership, and vote YES on Measure B, to establish a more independent Commission on Police Practices to replace the existing CRB.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Inappropriate Use of the Term “Lynching” Removed

September 23, 2020

A protester was arrested on August 20th by the San Diego Police Department.  They were arrested for trying to rescue a fellow protestor from police custody.  It is a misdemeanor (CA Penal Code sec. 148) to willfully “resist, delay or obstruct” a police officer in the course of their duties, and a misdemeanor (CA Penal Code sec. 241) “assault” on a police officer. Neither of those charges would have been unexpected.

It was the felony charge of lynching (CA Penal Code 405) that took us by surprise.

We all know what lynching is and who its victims are.  While the word “lynching” was removed from the code in 2015, that changes nothing about the intent or history of the law and the historical and current practice it is meant to prohibit.

Still, the San Diego Police Department booked this protestor under the anti-lynching statute.

The NAACP San Diego Branch contacted the neighborhood Community Prosecutor Liaison to see if the DA planned to charge the protestor as the SDPD recommended.  We received the following statement in reply:

For more than 80 years, California law defined “lynching” as the crime of taking someone from the lawful custody of a peace officer by means of a riot, according to California Penal Code 405a.  However, we know that lynching has a painful history for African Americans and is more commonly used to describe murder by mob. 

In 2015 Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that removed the word “lynching” from the text of the bill.  Our office has not issued a case with this charge since 2011. Of the two defendants charged in 2011, one case dismissed and the other was vacated.  Currently, Penal Code 405a provides that a person who participates in taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer is guilty of a felony. It is no longer referred to as “lynching.” 

It recently came to [District Attorney Summer Stephan]’s attention that the sheriff had not changed its booking form and the word lynching was still being used on booking sheets.  Summer was offended and appalled to learn this word was still being used in the booking form and took the following actions.  

(1) We talked to the Sheriff, advised them that the word was removed from the statute in 2015, and they agreed to change the booking criteria to remove this language.

(2) Our District Attorney liaison will meet with SDPD, remind them that the law has changed to omit that language and  train them not to use that language in their internal and external communications

We appreciate District Attorney Stephen’s swift response to the concerns of her constituents as relayed by the NAACP San Diego Branch.

Our Citizen’s Justice Committee, chaired by Dr Robert Brown, also considered this issue.  A Sheriff’s Department employee who is a Branch member took our concerns back to the Sheriff’s Department, which independently undertook to remove the word “lynching” from its booking sheets.  We also appreciate this prompt action taken by the Sheriff’s Department.

Our next step will be to advocate that this law never be used again outside the context for which it was intended.  It is a cruel irony to see it used as a tool against people struggling, however inappropriately, for civil rights.  There are other statutes that could have been used; leave this one for when it is called for, in honor of the thousands of African-Americans who have suffered this horrible crime.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

What is Behind the Mask at Probation & the District Attorney’s Office?

September 23, 2020

Six months ago, a San Diego County Probation Officer’s misconduct went below the public radar. 

Officer Michael Stevenson was clandestinely charged by the County DA’s office for evidence tampering, lying on court reports, preparing false reports for fraudulent reasons, and several other counts. 

P.O. Michael Stevenson was entrusted to honor the oath by which he swore to uphold the United States & State of California Constitutions and the rights of its citizens. Instead of fulfilling his Peace Officer duties and sworn oath, he conducted affairs that violated public trust and compromised public safety (by providing unethical and unlawful privileges to probationers, including Shalana Pohlman and Kenneth Fishburn.)

Though formally charged by DA Stephan’s office earlier this year, it is difficult to find reassurance here due to the inner office letters sent to defense attorneys just last week. The letter depicts conflicting statements such as “it has come to the attention of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office that Mr. Stevenson may have additional exculpatory information in his personnel file. The term exculpatory leaves room for a great margin of error as it can be defined as evidence that could show the defendant is not guilty. 

The public should also be aware no specific information about the charges was included in this five-page letter from the DA to defense attorneys.

Similarly, more convolution occurs as Chief of Probation, Adolfo Gonzales attempts his own appeal on the serious matter. 

His letter includes:   

When this matter was first brought to my attention last year, we acted decisively by notifying the District Attorney’s Office so an independent investigation could take place. In my 42 year career as a law enforcement leader, I have never wavered in the expectation that my staff’s actions must always be ethical, transparent, and in the public’s interest. I ask that you give this criminal review time to be adjudicated in a court of law.  

I understand some of you or fellow community members may be discouraged by this news. I want to reassure you that it is because of existing processes like Internal Affairs and the District Attorney’s Office that we work to uphold the highest standards. Probation Officers are professionals who have been entrusted by the community to perform a difficult job. With that duty it is this Department’s obligation to hold ourselves and others accountable. The charges against this former officer are not reflective of the Probation Department’s staff or what we stand for. We protect public safety and work to increase levels of trust with the community.  As the Chief Probation Officer, it is my top priority to ensure staff are supported in providing the highest quality services to the clients we serve.

These letters do not provide us with a reasonable guarantee that any outcomes will occur to adequately address this issue. It is long overdue that we examine what this leadership and their departments stand for. We demand decisive, adequate actions and responses to address officer misconduct in an intolerable fashion.

For decades, the Department of Probation and the District Attorney’s Office have served San Diego County under the guise of equity, fairness, and justice. 

However, too often, an opposing identity lurks behind this mask.  

Such is evident in the Michael Stevenson matter; the latest in a generational series of law enforcement inadequacies. Inadequacies that overwhelmingly adversely affect people of color on probation with constant revocation and recidivism, while catering to Whites on probation with passes and privileges as incentives. Studies have unmasked that 1 in 55 adults in America are under probation and parole supervision, these individuals appear to fare better in this system. However, 1 in 23 black people are on probation and experiencing a harsher more punitive types of probation compared to Whites. 

This discriminating Judicial cycle and continued issues of misconduct are a violation of our Constitutional rights and a violation of public trust.

The communities of San Diego, California demand to know the following: 

  • Why is there still an influx and imbalance in the supervision, surveillance, suppression, control, revocations and arrests of people of color?
  • Why are white privileged probationers and a white privileged employees receiving charges that may not stick along with an apparent get out of jail free card? This pass allowed P.O. Stevenson to collect leave pay and then resign in exchange for blatant misconduct and lack of adherence to the law.
  • How will the D.A.’s office work with the Probation Dept to stream-line equity and integrity throughout the fabrics of each department?
  • Why is there still an incongruence in the statement to the public and the statements to employees?

Case in point:

The Probation Dept. leadership asks the public to believe their guiding principles (published as):

  • Public safety is our priority
  • Maintain fiscal stability
  • Promote a culture that values diversity, fairness & equity
  • Conduct business with transparency and accountability
  • Act with integrity
  • Continually challenge ourselves to enhance our knowledge and expertise

While, the labor union, San Diego County Probation Officers Association has an opposing mission on display which states: 

It shall be the mission of the San Diego County Probation Officers Association to create and maintain the resources for the protection, care, and relief of its members, as well as, promote and maintain a feeling of friendship and fraternity among its members, to promote the individual and collective welfare of the members, and to defend and preserve the rights of the members on all matters pertaining to their employment relationships with the County of San Diego and to advance their professional interests.

These two vastly different pursuits of the Probation Dept. and the labor union leave very little room for accountability and high standards in order to flourish.

Is the Probation Department and the District Attorney’s office bargaining our Constitutional rights away to the San Diego County Probation Officers Association? 

Today we demand full transparency, full accountability, and full initiative in all public safety related matters. We demand the practice of masking serious misconduct issues to cease and desist.

We demand equality and fairness for all probationers. 

We demand new leaders and supervisors to take on this task if for some reason this matter remains unsolved and unresolved.

The masquerade is OVER!  

We earnestly await your response.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Member of the NAACP San Diego Branch