- Voice of San Diego - https://www.voiceofsandiego.org -

Outside Lawyer to Take Over Writing Police Oversight Ordinance

Andrea St. Julian, co-chair of San Diegans for Justice, appears at a press conference addressing the city’s proposed ordinance establishing the Commission on Police Practices. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The city will seek outside legal assistance to write the ordinance that will guide implementation of San Diego’s new police oversight commission.

The announcement follows a Voice of San Diego story [1] in which policing reform advocates questioned why the city attorney’s office, which defends the police department in lawsuits, was drawing up the governing documents for the commission charged with policing the police.

Advocates were also frustrated [2] that a draft version of the ordinance, written by the city attorney, ignored a list of community requests [3] that had been provided to the city attorney months ago.

Kate Yavenditti, a lawyer and member of Women Occupy San Diego, told Voice of San Diego that the city attorney’s office “should be completely removed” from the process of drafting the law.

“[The city attorney’s] legal and ethical responsibility is to protect their client, which is clear from the draft ordinance, which favors SDPD every way possible,” she said.

The new oversight commission, which will replace the old Community Review Board on Police Practices will have a professional staff that will investigate incidents involving police use of force and certain misconduct complaints. It will also recommend policy overhauls and ensure that the police department is complying with all local, state and federal data-reporting requirements.

In a July 9 memo to City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods committee, City Attorney Mara Elliott wrote that her office didn’t have the time to handle “two very time-intensive and complex ordinances.”

The second ordinance is the PrOTECT Act [4]. Drafted by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, the act, whose name is short for “Preventing Overpolicing Through Equitable Community Treatment,” requires police officers to prove probable cause before stopping and searching a person and prohibits officers from asking people about prior criminal history unless it’s relevant to an investigation.

Late last month, Montgomery asked the city attorney’s office to conduct a review of the PrOTECT Act by the end of this month.

“Expedited review of the [Commission on Police Practices] Implementation Ordinance and the PrOTECT Ordinance will require the attention of more than one full-time Deputy City Attorney, which we are unable to provide at this time,” Elliott wrote in the memo.

The memo goes on to recommend that the law firm that provides legal advice to the city’s current police oversight board assist with writing the Commission on Police Practices ordinance.

“As to the PrOTECT Ordinance, we will attempt to engage panel counsel to perform legal review,” Elliott wrote. Panel counsel are private attorneys who have been pre-approved by the City Council to provide legal assistance.

In a statement, Montgomery said she agreed “that the best course of action for all parties is to secure outside legal counsel to ensure that we indeed have the requisite capacity, a steady timeline and dedicated, uninterrupted legal services.”

She also said her office would continue to take the lead on steering both ordinances.

Andrea St. Julian, the author of Measure B, which created the Commission on Police Practices, said she commends the city attorney for seeking outside assistance, but still has concerns about who will be selected to write the ordinance.

“Whomever is chosen to write the ordinance has to be someone grounded in civil rights and public interest law,” she said.