SDPD's Revisionism on Community Policing

Police

SDPD’s Revisionism on Community Policing

Chiefs past and present now say they knew the department’s community policing efforts were suffering. Four years ago, they said there was no problem.

San Diego police leaders past and present seem to be rewriting history when it comes to the department’s use of a strategy called community-oriented policing.

A lengthy Union-Tribune story this weekend covered the department’s history with community-oriented policing, which focuses on crime prevention rather than crime response. Think cops helping community members paint over graffiti rather than simply trying to arrest taggers. Twenty years ago, San Diego was one of the leaders in the field.

But in the story, former Chief William Lansdowne, current Chief Shelley Zimmerman and other SDPD police officers lamented how the department’s community policing initiatives fell by the wayside amid years of budget cuts during Lansdowne’s decade-long tenure. Zimmerman said in the story that she is trying to bring it back after the U.S. Department of Justice called out SDPD’s failures:

When Shelley Zimmerman became police chief in 2014, restoring community policing initiatives was immediately made a top priority, because, department leaders said, the federal report just confirmed what many already knew: San Diego police officers weren’t the problem solvers they once were, and it was time for an intervention.

Lansdowne and Zimmerman are now claiming that department leaders knew SDPD had abandoned community policing efforts during the economic downturn.

That is the exact opposite of what both claimed four years ago – during the economic downturn.

In 2011, we detailed the ways in which SDPD had abandoned community policing. The department’s reaction was swift. Zimmerman, who was in charge of community policing efforts before her ascension to chief, responded in an op-ed titled “Community Policing Is Going Strong.” It begins like this (emphasis added):

San Diego’s crime rate is at its lowest in nearly half a century and we now rank among the top five safest cities in the United States. Much of the credit for this incredible success comes from the police department’s tremendous partnership with the community.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I read voiceofsandiego.org’s bizarre conclusion that the San Diego Police Department had “moved away” from community policing. VOSD seems to come to this faulty conclusion based in large part on the San Diego Police Department’s reduced participation in a problem-oriented policing conference and the fact that it has not submitted as many projects for a Herman Goldstein award as in previous years.

This conclusion is fundamentally flawed and does not reflect reality.

Experts believe community policing builds trust between police and neighborhoods. In redoubling the department’s community-policing efforts, SDPD is acknowledging that those efforts backslid at some point – something police leaders weren’t willing to say a few years ago.

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