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.
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?
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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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
@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.