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City Councilwoman Marti Emerald planned to hold police
accountable at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday but the city’s
police chief won’t be there.
A month ago, City Councilwoman Marti Emerald sounded skeptical of Police Chief Bill Lansdowne’s answer to the largest scandal he’s faced in the last decade. Lansdowne proposed seven steps to turn around a spike of criminal allegations against San Diego police officers this year.
“It’s easy to say we have a seven-point plan,” Emerald said in an interview. “It’s another thing to implement it.”
Emerald, chairwoman of the City Council’s public safety committee, pledged to hold Lansdowne accountable to his plan and schedule a July 27 meeting to discuss police misconduct and officer wellness. It would have been the first time Lansdowne publicly discussed the scandal with the City Council.
But there’s no mention of Lansdowne or his seven-point plan on Wednesday’s committee meeting agenda. It says police will discuss towing practices and the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices will provide an informational presentation about its activities.
Lansdowne won’t attend the meeting. Police said Lansdowne delayed the council’s misconduct discussion since he will be in Boston on Wednesday for a meeting with the Police Executive Research Forum. Lansdowne is the national organization’s former treasurer.
Emerald’s chief of staff, Don Mullen, said the discussion has been rescheduled for a meeting in late September — two months from now and four months after Lansdowne announced his plan in May.
At the time, police acknowledged at least nine investigations involving serious or criminal allegations against its officers in an eight month stretch. Then, police acknowledged two more cases, fanning more public scrutiny. Today, five officers have been charged in court while others remain under investigation.
An even further delayed discussion of the scandal isn’t exactly the kind of accountability Emerald described last month. She called for police to provide more information about their response to citizen complaints and talked about strategizing her own requests for internal records. She worried about a looming problem.
“We’ll ask for any information they can give us,” she said. “I’m hoping we can really open this up and make sure we’re getting the right information.”
Like us, Emerald had questions about former San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos, who is awaiting trial on charges of sexually assaulting or soliciting bribes from seven women during traffic stops in the past two years. A search warrant in the case says Arevalos had a well-known history of misconduct around the department before recent incidents came to public light.
“If this is well known, why did the other officers allow this to continue?” Emerald asked.
Lansdowne’s delayed a public discussion, but it’s worth noting that he’s already followed through on most of his promises. Here’s the update, according to interviews with department spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown, other police officers, past reporting and news media reports:
• Lansdowne promised to create a confidential complaint hotline. He did. As of July 19, police have received 164 messages through the phone, though not all are complaints against San Diego police officers. Some people leave multiple messages about one incident or ask where to file complaints for other law enforcement agencies.
• Lansdowne promised to add three or four officers to the Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates violations of department policy. He’s added four full-time sergeants to help investigators and a second lieutenant to help supervise them.
• Lansdowne promised to examine officer wellness. He’s reassigned a captain to oversee wellness and more research is ongoing. The department is surveying what officers need to improve wellness and all supervisors will add a wellness component for annual evaluations.
• Lansdowne promised to review use-of-force policies, which came under public scrutiny after two incidents were videotaped and posted online. Brown said police routinely review use of force policies, but did not say whether police have changed any in response to the two incidents.
• Lansdowne promised to meet with all of his officers to discuss the spike in police misconduct. The department required everyone to attend but didn’t take roll to confirm. Lansdowne talked about his history and how the department has changed over the years. Some officers have characterized the meetings as pep rallies. Brown responded, “I would say there’s a certain component of that. We were getting kicked around pretty good and not always undeservedly so. Some officers getting accused of sex crimes while on duty — we deserve to get our asses kicked over that one.”
• Lansdowne promised to review police discipline procedures since officers complained it was taking too long to complete internal investigations. He’s assigned a former head of the Internal Affairs Unit to review procedures as his full-time duty and recommend modifications by September.
• Lansdowne promised to expand ethics training for supervisors. He created a two-day ethics and leadership class and required all sergeants or lieutenants to attend by September. Brown didn’t know if the class will continue annually or for new supervisors.