The San Diego Police Department’s inability to recruit and retain police officers doesn’t stem from the increased media scrutiny on policing, the problem comes from within the SDPD. Until the department changes its culture and internal climate, the problems will persist.

Commentary - in-story logoThe SDPD needs a boost in morale, and new leadership that will inspire young police officers. The department has suffered some blows, including police officers being convicted of misconduct, the department being sued for racism by one of its own and being found to have racial disparities in traffic stops. It’s hard for young officers to seek to be employed by SDPD and remain in the department with this kind of negative publicity.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman must take personal responsibility for the failures of the SDPD not being able to recruit and retain an adequate number of police officers. She must not only be able to help communities solve their problems, but she must also be effective in solving problems within her own department. When Zimmerman switches the blame on media and others, it thwarts SDPD’s ability to identify the real problems.

The SDPD must become the leader in rebuilding trust with all communities by seriously transforming its practices. When a white person sees a police officer, they feel safe and protected. Sometimes when a person of color sees a police officer, especially younger black men, they can feel threatened. This must change. The recent racial profiling report bears this out. We are not all being treated the same. The SDPD must acknowledge these racial disparities, and hire and train officers who will share the values of the communities they serve. When all community members are treated with dignity and respect, they will in return recognize peace officers as legitimate, which will create healthy relationships and build bridges of trust between officers and communities; especially communities of color.

If officers felt respected and honored by their leaders and the communities they serve, their jobs would be easier, making retention more feasible. That won’t happen until the culture and practices are changed within the SDPD.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer must be transparent and assure us that when Zimmerman retires, he will not try to find a loophole to keep her. As required by the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, Zimmerman must  retire by March 1 next year as she has signed up to do, and the mayor must make sure that she does. While we appreciate Zimmerman’s service, as top cop, she had her opportunity to build community trust (especially in communities of color), bring change, stability, boost morale and fix the recruitment and retention problem within the department. It’s time to let another leader take the helm and launch new policies and initiatives meant to tackle these issues head-on.


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

If the city of San Diego wants to become the leader in recruiting and retaining police officers, the mayor and City Council can begin by conducting a national search to hire a police chief who has proven experience in successfully recruiting and retaining officers, and transforming cultures within public safety systems that inspires and brings people together.

Also, SDPD must become the leader in having the best pay and benefits in California in order to retain officers trained by the academies for which our taxes pay. There is no need to have one of the best training academies and testing processes that are difficult to pass, and then give officers a pay and benefit package that isn’t as good as it can be. Those officers who accept employment with SDPD are going to leave once they get a better offer.

The SDPD can become the role model for other law enforcement agencies by adopting a framework called HEAT, which puts a focus on hiring, equipment, accountability and training.

First and foremost, SDPD needs to change how and who it hires –  hire people likely to de-escalate, not those who are likely to be aggressive. And we need to hire more diverse officers. Recent research shows, for example, that female officers are more likely to resolve conflict peacefully.

How we equip these new hires is also important – do we arm them with Tasers, pepper spray or some other new technology that decreases officer-involved shootings?

Then there’s accountability. The Community Review Board on Police Practices, a civilian review board that reviews complaints against officers, doesn’t have enough power and teeth. SDPD needs an independent, fully budgeted and staffed, subpoena-empowered panel that can readily and quickly do independent investigations of citizen complaints so we weed out the bad hires and keep the best and brightest.

And SDPD needs to get serious about introducing additional and recurring training programs that address implicit bias, mental health, de-escalation and other issues police officers are facing.

If the SDPD leadership implemented the HEAT framework, and transformed its culture and practices, it would lead to better recruitment and retention.

Cornelius Bowser is a bishop at Charity Apostolic Church. Bowser’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here

    This article relates to: Opinion, Police, Police Misconduct, Police Retention

    Written by Opinion

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    18 comments
    Joan Lockwood
    Joan Lockwood

    I'd like to share my experiences with the Chief....Will she finally return a call?  As John Lye from the Maors office suggested over 2 no is it 3 years now

    this is call letting the statue of Limitations run out  but public corruption is a whole different ball of wax


    Or have Dennis Knightly, then IA or *Mitch* or Desiree give me a ring


    If it saves ONE Citizen from my experience of Americas finest then its worth it- isn't it Chief?

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Thank you Bishop Bowser. You've described some troubling issues. 


    I see many SDPD cadet applicants in my classroom as part of their application process. They want to serve their community, and work hard to be accepted to the academy. But several have expressed concerns over their long-term future with SDPD, and admit they plan to apply to other departments once their training is complete. 


    Clearly, the city must do more to not only attract, but retain, these trainees.

    Joan Lockwood
    Joan Lockwood

    Mayor Falconer must take his place among the influencers that have failed the clean up efforts of CRB.  And we need Africa Americans appointed to the Board.  There are plenty of Chicanos but may years removed from the first generation  came from Mexico or other Hispanic populations.

    We have IA sitting at the table, I can't say enough about the corrupt behaviors I have experienced at IA's hands, while they chuckle and laugh it up.  They apparently miss the lack of respect it shows not only to the trusting citizen but to themselves and their job.


    They do not take their job seriously, they don't take the corruption seriously they bury case files they are a pitiful bunch of comics.  Its a crying shame the law enforcement in San Diego.  Its made our town and the position of SDPD  and the DA's office rife with law breakers laughing all the way. 

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Joan Lockwood A couple of years ago, I made a call to IA to inquire about an investigation that they had opened where I was the object of interest (for wiretapping liars in the Police Department and sending that information to the USDOJ.) On identifying myself the response came back, "Oh yes Mr. Hylton, we have extensive files on you."


    I am still shaking in my shoes.

    Terrie Best
    Terrie Best subscriber

    Cops allow their own union spokes people to dodge, deflect and blame others for the lack of ethics in the SDPD. They WANT to be bad cops. Their spokespeople are bad cops. Until their spokespeople act like professionals and not children all cops are bad. Their words, not mine.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    The expression "implicit-bias" is a cop-out, when applied to cops.  We need to use real words to describe racism; so let us call it that. The SDPD has more than a few racists in its ranks and it hides them while it coddles them. Contributors to the coddling is a coterie of city functionaries, who are bold enough, protected enough, and racist enough that they could concoct and did pull off the SDSU police-bias report using engineered purged data.


    Young idealistic types tend not to want to be called racist, or to be associated with racists. The coterie knows not that, for behold what is the foundation of what they have wrought:



    Michael Blott
    Michael Blott

    Pay is relative. There are many non-discussed benefits including a pension based on salary plus overtime. While I can understand minorities being leery with police, whites don't always feel safe with police around either. Quotas destroy trust. Deputy Police Chief Norm Stamper said as much.

    Protecting an officer that shot a playful dog, captured on video, tells the public that they come second and facts do not matter when police are in the spotlight. The Emperor's new clothes only works for so long.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Michael Blott What's this "quotas" business.  Is there some evidence of some sort of current quota system for tickets or arrests in SDPD?  If so, let's see it.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw @Michael Blott


    Michael Blott may do better, but advocacy for more citations (revenue generators) is enough for me.


    From: Cohen, Lawrence Sent: Wednesday, July 2, 2014 11:48 PM To: Alberts, Michael; Armstrong, James; Betley, Travis; Chambers, Nathan; Sevilla, Adrian Subject: FW: Vehicle Stop Data Reports May 2014 Attachments: VehicleStopbySourceMay2014.pdf; VehicleStopComplianceMay2014.pdf FYI Please read below from the LT… p- From: Rose, Stephanie Sent: Tuesday, July 01, 2014 8:31 AM To: Albers, Wesley; Caropreso, Frank; Cohen, Lawrence; Fortuna, Richard; Piner, John; Schmottlach, Tristan; Sells, Gaylon; Sterling, Jeffrey; Metz, Richard Subject: FW: Vehicle Stop Data Reports May 2014 Hello Everyone, Here is the lastest Stop card information. For the last few months we have been at or above 200% over citations submitted. Perhaps you could encourage your officers to write citations to more of the violations they see. Traffic enforcement is still one of our Divisions priorities. Also, The Department is getting more AB109 money this year. To assist us in conducting worthwhile operations can you also encourage your officers to note on their FI’s whether the person is a 4th waiver, on parole or AB109. Your folks have been making some excellent contacts and we just found out we will be able to target 4th waivers even if not AB109 this next year. Thank you! Stephanie Rose Stephanie Rose, Lieutenant San Diego Police Department, Northwestern Division 12592 El Camino Real San Diego, CA 92130 (858) 523-7009 

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    This piece is right-on. Pay and benefits are not the only factor that determines anyone's longevity on a job. Ideally, the employee (in this case - the cop) must enjoy performing his job and respect his/her boss. This appears to not be the case in the SDPD. As for pin-pointing the reasons that cops are leaving the SDPD - it easy thing to conduct exit interviews with those who leave, to ask that question. People who leave their jobs ususually are pretty honest about their reasons, as they have nothing to lose at that point. Private businesses routinely conduct those sort of interviews, why can't the SDPD?

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    This is an interesting point echoed by Councilmember Alvarez in his opinion piece in the UT today. He writes that the City Council asked that this be done, but it didn't happen.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @bgetzel How do you know they don't conduct interviews?  The value of exit interviews on the day of departure is highly questionable.  Contrary to your assertion, most people will NOT be candid then.  They don't want to leave bad mouthing their employer, so they give you nice platitudes.  Contacts a couple of months after departure, when the person is established in his or her new situation,  are more productive.

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw @bgetzel Either way - collect the data at exit interview or several months later. Where is the data? Either the SDPD does not collect it or they refuse to present it.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    This is an excellent opinion piece. One issue that is not mentioned is the Mayor's accountability in all this. He appointed a personal friend to lead the PD, which was a huge mistake. She immediately became unassailable as a result. Her failures are his failures, so of course he supports her efforts to suggest that there are no failures on her part, but only on the part of the media and critics. This is a personality and politically driven problem: She can't be wrong, because then I would be wrong. Everything is fine. 

    Separately, the Mayor supported a ballot proposition that had the effect of greatly limiting the ability of the city to offer competitive pay and benefits. All other things aside, if you can't compete in the marketplace, you will fail. There are escape hatches in the ballot proposition to deal with problems like this, but implementing them would require the Mayor to acknowledge that the ballot proposition wasn't such a good idea, at least with respect to police. So that's not happening.

    The media has contributed to this by failing to make the Mayor accountable. This is a strong mayor form of government in which the Mayor has direct control over how departments, like this one, function. But the media rarely make the Mayor accountable for failures of his departments. Rather, the department heads take the criticism and he stands in the wings.

    Meanwhile, other city's in our own county are having none of the recruiting and retention problems of San Diego, but somehow, there is no willingness on the part of the Mayor, Police Chief, or a majority of the City Council to accept responsibility for failure.and an urgent need for a course correction. This is how failure becomes institutionalized.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Chris Brewster Since you are blaming the media, you ought to be comprehensive in the application of blame. They, the media, add to the rot by failing to report unpalatable facts or to water down the unpalatable. For example, the SDSU report on police-bias was based on "fudged" data. This news-source is one of the many that knew of the fudging when the fudging started; i.e. while the data was being collected; before collection was complete. I told them of it.


    No media outlet mentioned the fact of data purging. What they did  mention was the massive holes in the data, and that disparities from 2014 disappeared when data from 2014 was combined with 2015.  No mention was made as to how the former contributed to the latter.



    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Chris Brewster I have to agree Faulconer shares the blame for this situation.  He has not moved aggressively on this, and his prior friendship with Zimmerman may be a factor, but in all fairness, Zimmerman was a good choice.  Remember two things:  The previous chief quit on very short notice and picking someone internally removed the long drawn out search process with an "interim" chief filling in and all the awkwardness that entails.  Plus, I think most people in most San Diego neighborhoods who had encountered Zimmerman while in the many lesser positions she occupied during her long career here would speak very highly of her, particularly her community relations abilities.    

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Bradshaw: I agree that she is a very like-able person. But the requirements of the job go well beyond that. 

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    San Diego should be governed by it residents. Police are the home military of the government.  San Diego Police are not representative of the residents and are brought in from other areas to govern.


    SD Police are higher paid than San Diego TEACHERS.  The Councils Police demand and receive more than 5 times the compensation earned by City taxpayers and active duty combat military.


    Now the Bishop identifies that the Police do not feel the Love of the Policed.  Well I that proves, given police compensation, the truth expressed by the Beatles https://youtu.be/srwxJUXPHvE