Monday morning, three U.S. Department of Justice officials announced the department would be reviewing the San Diego Police Department in response to a rash of officer misconduct allegations. This is what we know so far.

The city asked for this, but the feds say the review will be independent.

Over the next six to eight months, the Justice Department will be looking at the roughly 15 serious misconduct allegations that have arisen against SDPD officers over the past few years. The cases range from officer DUIs to serial sexual misconduct. The feds also will be reviewing SDPD’s internal investigation process, recruiting and hiring procedures and other areas.

Federal officials won’t actually conduct the review, though. The DOJ has enlisted the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit police research organization, to do the work.

“If you’re looking at training, then we want to make sure that the people who are going to be evaluating the training literally wrote the book on training,” said Ronald Davis, a DOJ employee who oversees the department of community-oriented policing. “If we’re looking at sexual misconduct and there are certain nuances with that, then we should have the expert to go with that.”

The DOJ is paying for the review – it won’t cost the city anything. The fact the city isn’t paying for it is one way to ensure the assessment will be independent, Davis said. All findings will be made public.

SDPD asked for the review to take place. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the department invited federal officials to see what it can do to better.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

“We’re not just going to give an excuse that we hire from the human race,” Zimmerman said.

Local police departments asking for federal assistance is relatively new. Last year, Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey asked for a similar review of his department’s use of force. That effort is ongoing.

The feds aren’t dropping their biggest hammer on SDPD.

Federal justice officials have lots of ways they can intervene in local police departments. This is not one of the harsher ones.

The most serious step the Justice Department can take against a police department is to file suit over civil rights violations. That often leads to a court-ordered independent monitor of the department, which would oversee reforms.

Tony West, the associate attorney general and third-ranking official in the Justice Department, said SDPD hasn’t reached that stage.

“That’s one tool,” West said, “but it’s not the only tool.”

Not everyone agrees. A police accountability expert has argued for an independent monitor. Attorneys for a victim of former officer Anthony Arevalos are asking a federal judge to impose one.

Experts say independent monitors have a strong track record for imposing lasting reforms, but can be very costly. They also take power away from the department.

Ramsey’s decision to invite the Department of Justice to review Philadelphia police was seen as a way to ward off a more serious response. Zimmerman has made it clear she doesn’t believe SDPD needs a monitor.

A federal criminal probe is starting too – but we don’t know anything about it.

About midway through the press conference, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said something cryptic.

The U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI are leading an active criminal investigation into conduct within the SDPD, he said.

“We believe every rock should be turned over and if, and I do emphasize if, crimes were committed in addition to those already prosecuted, perpetrators should be brought to justice,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith didn’t elaborate after the press conference on what he meant or who was being targeted. He said he revealed the existence of the investigation so the public would understand it was separate from the federal review and so that no one would be shocked if federal subpoenas or other investigatory actions happened.  A U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman also declined to comment on the investigation.

    This article relates to: News, Police, Police Misconduct, Share

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    Big Dog
    Big Dog subscriber

    Question regarding a story in the news about El Cajon PD doctoring photos of crime scene in court. This is a huge issue with me as this is what I have been screaming about for 4 years after my son was killed. The district attorney office was aware of this issue with SDPD and Sgt. Friedman before Arevalos arrest. Court docs show Arevalos and Friedman would take evidence including pictures from other detectives files. Not keeping any hopes for the federal investigation. Like Judge Fraser said about a key witness not allowed to testify in the Arevalos trial "Have they been living in a cave".

    My question, Is it legal for police departments to doctor photos from a crime scene that could change the outcome of either accident or homicide?

    James Weber
    James Weber subscriber

    Lots of smug looking white people in that photo.

    Tyred subscriber

    @James Weber  Ya mean Walt Vasquez, can't remember the female, Joe Ramos, Manny Guaderrama & Dan ??? (White)

    Ya mean THOSE white???? people?

    Jake Resch
    Jake Resch subscriber

    Out of six main faces that are in focus, four of them are Hispanic. An additional Two are semi identifiable. So half of the identifiable people are not white. Yet those same people are among the highest ranking people on the police department (or retired high ranking from the department)

    What point are you trying to prove?

    Big Dog
    Big Dog subscriber

    James, understand your frustration but as a black friend of mine told me while investigating my son's death. Idi Amin has killed hundreds of thousands of blacks and he is black. With that said corruption usually is the color, religion, party, of money or power.

    Unfortunately the minority, whatever their color are told to stand down.

    Justice subscriber

    That Jan Goldsmith, who gives carte blanche to his deputies to use every dirty tactic they can to abuse victims of police abuse at huge taxpayer expense, and who has been an apologist for dirty cops throughout his tenure, is weighing in and commenting, should prove that whatever investigation will be futile.

    Remember the Bank of America chalked he wrongfully prosecuted? Remember his putting a tail on a sex assault victim and grousing about those dirty lawyers who were going to make money on the backs of the misconduct of the chief, who Goldsmith supported throughout his misconduct.

    C'Mon folks, get a clue. This city is dirty inside ad out.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    According to your article, the fed review will include “,,,recruiting and hiring procedures and other areas”. This is a hunting license, pure and simple, so don’t be surprised if the investigation ranges far and wide, apparently what most of the myriad critics of SDPD want. 

    Consider this:  The city has given the Eric Holder Justice Department, that bastion of democracy which helps Barack Obama shred the constitution and stonewalls every investigation congress has attempted to make on numerous issues beginning with “Fast and Furious”, carte blanche to find that the real problem in the department is that the percentages of each of the myriad racial groups in town aren’t proportionately distributed throughout each level of SDPD, and that women, although we now have a female chief, have been systematically discriminated against by the “old boy” network.  You may even see former captain Roulette Armstead, who retired in a pique after being “passed over” for the top job a couple of chiefs ago, reappear as star “witness”.

    We will undoubtedly also get an analysis of “disparate” arrest rates for the various racial groups.

    Notice that the Philadelphia police chief asked for federal “help” last year and that investigation hasn’t been completed yet.  You can expect a lengthy effort here, particularly since this is the only city in the ten most populous with a (Gasp) Republican mayor.  Politicized federal investigations are now standard practice, so watch out!

    Who knows?  They may even find time to investigate recent officer misconduct issues.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Bradshaw: Indeed, things must be pretty rough if a Republican mayor feels it necessary to ask the Justice Department in a Democrat administration for help. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Here are some ways to ensure your town looks like a backroom operation: Innumerable influential people support the police chief to the hilt, although he himself acknowledges the need for an independent review of his own department as evidence of problems mount. Then he abruptly resigns and tactfully disappears from the scene. The new mayor appoints a long-time insider from the same department (and a personal friend) who is widely lauded for getting along with everyone. Then the US Department of Justice steps in amid apparent acknowledgement that the department leadership is incapable of identifying the root of and addressing its own problems. Reality check: If Mr. Landsdowne was a competent police chief, why was he incapable of guiding the department such that it could have avoided the apparently necessary indignity of an external review by the feds?

    Tyred subscriber

    The Chief coming out in support of her vice cops holding 20+ strippers for 2 hours and photographing them full body sure sounds like business as usual.  A common legal guideline is 20 minutes for a detention, not 2 hours.  So if they were not free to leave, they must have been under arrest?  Hopefully the proper paperwork for the arrest, including all probable cause and the 849b release was completed for each one.

    If the strippers are telling the truth about requesting to leave and being denied, welcome to the first taxpayer payout for police misconduct under Zimmerman.

    Elmer - trying to find something but maybe an Asst Chief left to be the chief of another dept?

    James Weber
    James Weber subscriber

    @Tyred  The strippers have already filed a claim.  Time to raise taxes.

    Tyred subscriber

    @James Weber @Tyred   yup - but are their claims true and did the cops violate the law?  It sure seems like it on the surface.

    Elmer Walker
    Elmer Walker subscriber

    The independent review points out the depth and extent of the corruption and misdeeds in the department. It looks like honest and trustworthy officers are few and far between, especially in the command structure. I understand one of the asst. chiefs has already resigned and left town. I only thought we had a weak police chief and not a pattern of corruption. Guess I was wrong. 

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    America's Finest will fully cooperate with the feds.


    What was the question again?

    Dieselman3 subscriber

    No longer will her puppets be able to hide behind Lansdowne! The public will now know all the corruption which exists in this house of rats. I will definitely have some information to share...

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    @James Weber  Well, she could've said, "...she doesn't believe SDPD needs a large tropical carnivorous lizard of Africa, Asia, and Australia."