In San Diego, there’s a clear answer for who watches the watchmen – or at least who’s appointed to.

Yuki Marsden has been on the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices, or CRB, since 2008 and now serves as its chair. She and 22 other members are in part responsible for keeping San Diego’s police force in check, reviewing the evidence in complaints against officers and suggesting policy changes.

Marsden’s in a perfect position to call out kinks in the system – and she does. Transparency ranked high in her complaints about the process, in terms of both SDPD’s interactions with the public and with the CRB itself.

Marsden seemed narrowly focused, however, on what the CRB can and can’t do for now. When I asked for her thoughts on whether the public should have access to police body camera footage, an especially loud conversation nationwide and one the SDPD has been pressed on before, she said she hadn’t put much thought into it.


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I sat down with Marsden to get a clearer idea what degree of accountability the CRB brings to San Diego’s shaky relationship with its police force, and what the future might hold for body cameras and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s just make this super clear for people right off the bat. There are a few different oversight models for police departments. Which type is San Diego’s CRB?

We’re the review. We don’t have subpoena power and I think it works for the city of San Diego because we have a department who’s willing to listen to us and make changes.

I’ll just walk you through the whole process: A citizen makes a complaint. They can complain directly to us, they can complain to the police, they can complain to their city councilman, who will forward it to us and then it gets sent to Internal Affairs.

Internal Affairs does the investigation. Our job and our role is to review the Internal Affairs report to make sure it was thorough, complete and accurate. And if we feel it’s not, then we have them reopen the investigation. They go back in, interview the people, look for additional evidence and present it back to us. And if we’re satisfied, we’ll make a decision.

A lot of discussion will go back and forth and we’ll find a common ground that we can go to. When people look at our findings, they see … close to 90 percent of the time, we’ll find that we have agreed with Internal Affairs. But what that doesn’t show is the amount of time that the team spent negotiating back and forth, getting Internal Affairs to change their finding.

One of the things why I think the review model works well is that, because it’s considered an administrative review, (under the Police Officers Bill of Rights) … (officers) are required to answer our questions. They can’t take the fifth, they can’t say no. They have to answer the question as it’s presented to them.

What kind of complaints can’t you handle?

We review what they call Category 1 complaints, which are arrest, force, discrimination, slurs or criminal conduct — like money is missing from my wallet or something like that. The other complaints, of procedure, courtesy, whatever else may come up, we don’t typically see those. So if you were to complain and say, “I thought the officer was rude to me, blah blah blah,” and that’s your only complaint, we would not see that.

What changes would you want to see in the process?

I think there’s a lack of transparency a little bit. Right now, the complainant gets a letter back that says, this was your complaint, this was how it was voted. It was either sustained, not sustained, exonerated or unfounded. But they don’t get, “it was exonerated because it fell within this policy.” They’re not given that information. And I think if I was a complainant, and I was to receive that letter, I would feel cheated.

For some reason, San Diego Police Department does not post its policies and procedures. I don’t know whether it’s the union or the department itself that is against it. I’ve been around almost seven years and I’m not sure. The discussion comes up periodically and they’re like nope, we’re not putting it up on the web. It just kind of gets dropped there.

The other thing I would like to see is sort of (an) electronic tracking system of all this. A complaint can come in, and we write up the complaint and we submit it over to Internal Affairs. Internal Affairs then makes a determination in Category 1 or Category 2 complaints. If it’s Category 1, it’ll come back through. If it’s Category 2, I never know what happens to that complaint.

I started this conversation a little over a year ago with (former SDPD Chief William) Lansdowne and he was like, well OK, we’ll look into it. Then he moved on and now we have the new chief and they just – it’s not a priority to them.

And I know they put a lot of money into the (officer body) cameras and into a lot of other stuff, but I think the information infrastructure at both the city and police department is very weak. Money really needs to be put in there, and the city will probably hate that I’m saying that as an unpaid city volunteer, but just the way that we track things is very manual. I have to try not to roll my eyes.

What’s one thing you think the public doesn’t understand about the CRB?

I don’t think that they understand that we’re a review process and not an investigatory process, and that we don’t go out and investigate a claim. But we welcome them to come in. If they see problems and deficiencies, we invite people to bring it into us and we can look into that and see if we can make change.

You mentioned body cameras. Have you been able to review any footage? Has that come into play in any cases?

Just starting to now, so we’ve seen two cases.

In what situations do you think that footage should be available to the public? When should that be out?

You know, I haven’t thought about that a lot. I know the department’s decision was that it is quote-unquote owned by the officer, so that it’s his. And again, this has to go back to the unions. I’m only speculating about it but it had to go back to the unions saying, this is his point of view, it’s what he’s doing, it’s his day basically.

This has been part of this national conversation in light of these protests around police brutality and officer-involved shootings. When there’s a broader public safety concern, would that call for it?

I haven’t thought about that at all because it hasn’t had anything to do with the board. I know that when it’s a piece of evidence, then we will get to see it. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other when others in the public could see it, I guess.

I’m willing to support either side – I could see an argument on both sides. So as long as we get access to it from the police board’s point of view, I’m happy with that.

Are you able to share the broad category of what those two cases you saw footage on were?

Most recently it had to do with force in arrest.

Was it particularly persuasive?

Yes. One of the things we’re noticing, and we brought it up last night at the meeting with the assistant chief … there’s an instant running loop, it’s running all the time but it doesn’t record until you hit the button, then there’s a 30-second buffer. It’s going to be a training issue because it’s not something that they normally do.

So we encouraged them, why aren’t we just recording constantly? More data, more information is better. And the assistant chief said yeah, we’re finding that.

I think they’re constantly looking at this policy, and they don’t know what it is and so if the public feels really strongly, they need to get in there and say this needs to be the change.

I haven’t thought it’s our role. I think when we see deficiencies, we can pass that on. The actual effect it’ll have, I don’t know.

    This article relates to: News, People, Police, Police Misconduct, Q-and-A, Share

    Written by Catherine Green

    Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at catherine.green@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

    10 comments
    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    On issue that is tangent to this is the fact more police need to be hired and their wages must average the prevailing wages of police departments, at least, in the larger cities, in surrounding counties.  What is at issue, at least in part, has been the absence of the "community relations" officer.  The community needs more positive contact with the SDPD, not less. We are now into the 6th year since the worst part of the "great recession". Cutbacks were made, yes, but hiring must take place now for new and prepared police officers. Crime is down, and has been declining for many years, but no one has a finger on why. Why wait for an uptick in crime?

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    The police union's position is immaterial,but not meaningless, given the union's power. The footage created by a police officer using a city-provided camera (especially in a public place) is a public document. The only basis for refusing to provide that footage, irrespective of its contents, would be a claim that it is evidence in an ongoing investigation.


    The SDPD and the union are bluffing and,  judging from the interview, the watch-dog appears toothless. Where are the public advocates?

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    This review board has no subpoena power to investigate and gets all of it's information from Internal Affairs. If I'm not mistaken A. I. is part of the police department and the same union. So any information into and investigation is controlled  by A. I. thus controlled by the union. Seems a might one sided.


    True civilian over sight would have subpoena power and the power to discipline and fire officers if need be. As she stated in the interview very few complaints are up held. Most of the time when police are accused of say excessive force the police trump of charges against the complainant such as resisting arrest,  obstructing justice, disobeying an order, etc. This puts the complainant in a position where they must deal with the criminal charges before they can deal with say and excessive force complaint. This is done all the time all over the country. 


    If each officer owns what is on his or her camera then they own the the investigation. You don't really think  that police are going to turn over footage that puts them in a bad light do you? 

    Anthony Wagner
    Anthony Wagner subscribermember

    What scares me about arbitrarily releasing all police camera footage at will is a proliferation of an armchair at-home expert that is further persuaded to immediate conclusion by the talking heads in media that also think they "know" what they see.  


    Footage tailored to a media piece, even a well written piece, normally does not explore in great enough detail  what's necessary to derive an informed decision based on what is seen alone.  Just because your eyes see it and the news reports it -  does not mean you have a full appreciation of what happened.  


    Two-dementional  footage to a none-expert  exploits an emotion response regardless of how mundane a dispute is with the police officer.  Adding to that, the average citizen is predisposed, especially in the here and now, to not give the benefit of the doubt to the officer. 


    What the average citizen thinks they see may be completely different through the lens of a use-of-force expert like internal affairs or citizen oversight.  Furthermore, when I was on the Police Review Board, even a three minute interaction with an officer that was in dispute took more than a month of thorough internal affairs investigation and 25 pages of explanation and legal exploration to acutely understand what exactly happened and who was at fault.  


    Police camera footage is but a small element of a full picture that should be weighted accordingly.  


    Body cameras are absolutely necessary and should be deployed by every enforcement agency regardless of cost.  Viewing of the tapes should be limited to internal affairs, legal staff and an educated, well-trained citizen oversight.  If the Mr. or Mrs. Armchair still want to see the tapes - join the citizen review board.  But, be prepared to have weeks or months of education and training including of use-of-force matrix before you get to look behind the curtain. 


    We have an imperfect system -  but I'm perfectly happy with the checks and balances currently in place to ensure footage is seen by the appropriate set of eyes. 

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    A toothless watchdog. Not only is there a lack of transparency, Women Occupy - San Diego has learned in our own interviews with the CRB leadership (including Ms. Marsden) that there isn't even a TRACKING SYSTEM for the Complaints about the SDPD that get submitted to the City. And what isn't stated in this Q&A is that in 2013, only 4 Complaints were Sustained by the CRB, out of less than 50 that were considered. That beggars the imagination.

    jeff jordon
    jeff jordon subscriber

    Interesting article, three thoughts:  1) Marsden says, "I think there’s a lack of transparency a little bit," but the headline kind of screams there is a lack of transparency which I think blows her comments out of proportion. 2) does the author really believe SDPD's relationship with its citizens is "shaky?"  I think that description is very misleading.  3) Lastly, when the discussion turns to making video footage available to the public, the San Diego Police Officers Association is just one of making stakeholders that was consulted on this issue, as was the ACLU, NAACP, LA Raza etc.  The policy was crafted with input from all parties, agreement was reached on most issues and it will be periodically reviewed to see how its working as we move forward.  The SDPOA or "union" as we are referred is part of the process, but we surely did not dominate the discussions regarding the development of the body worn camera policy.  I think the crafting of the camera policy was collaborative and designed to meet the accountability issues sought by the community, while maintaining protections related to privacy and due process.  Jeff 

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Sorry, Jeff, but you are mistaken. It was NOT collaborative. Chief Zimmerman put out a "Draft" policy, received comments on it and made virtually no change to it. BTW, you might disclose that you are VP of the police union.

    jeff jordon
    jeff jordon subscriber

    @Martha Sullivan  Sorry, Martha, but I believe input was provided and guidance sought on the "draft" policy by many parties long before it was ever released in draft form.  Next, I have written numerous articles for VOSD and posted here regularly, most readers know who I am by now.  Sorry, if you do not.  Respectfully, Sgt. Jeff Jordon VP SDPOA.

    Jake Vogelsang
    Jake Vogelsang subscriber

    Collaborative perhaps but what was the Police stance on sharing camera footage?

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    Ms. Marsden,

    Thank you for your service.

    Signed,

    Gotta get me one of them body cams...