Gloria, With Help, Makes Slow Progress on Police Reform | Voice of San Diego

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Gloria, With Help, Makes Slow Progress on Police Reform

Mayor Todd Gloria’s ‘police and public safety reform package’ included 11 items. Six months after he announced his priorities, we thought we’d take a look at how they were coming along.

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Mayor Todd Gloria has, both during his campaign and since taking office, faced pressure from his left on criminal justice reform. 

He has in many ways signaled alignment with the reform movement, while also distancing himself from it by courting financial support from police unions and increasing police spending in his first budget. 

In April, he announced a “police and public safety reform package,” one he said was built on “sensible and equitable changes to police practices.” 

His package included 11 items – actions that range from implementing changes approved by voters, exploring ideas that have been hotly debated for years, making changes that have since been changed at the state level, working with county prosecutors on long-sought reforms and changing city structures in ways welcomed by reformers. 

Six months later, we decided to check in on the progress of his reform package, both into whether it’s made changes, and how significant the criminal justice community perceives those moves. 

A spokesperson for the mayor declined to respond to a Voice of San Diego inquiry on the progress of the reform package. Instead, his administration issued a press release on the topic last week. 

In Gloria’s progress report, he took credit for completing five of the 11 items, and said he looked forward to complying with two items that have been changed at the state level before the city did anything. He gave no update on the progress of four items. One of the items he took credit for completing is not actually complete. Another is the subject of a much more significant reform package pushed by outside advocates that could come to the Council for a vote in the coming months.  

Appropriately fund and faithfully implement the Independent Commission on Police Practices

Gloria changed the title of this initiative in his press release last week, dropping the second portion of it that has not yet occurred to emphasize on the first part of it that has. 

This stems from the passage last year of Measure B, which Gloria supported, creating a new body overseeing the San Diego Police Department, the Commission on Police Practices. Unlike its predecessor, the commission would be able to conduct independent investigations into allegations of police misconduct, including subpoenaing witnesses, among other strengthened oversight roles. 

And, indeed, Gloria’s first budget included $1.14 million for the new commission, within the range of the Independent Budget Analyst’s estimate that it would cost between $1.1 million and $2.3 million, largely dependent on the number of full-time investigators it hires. 

But nearly a year after voters approved Measure B, it is not yet up and running. The city still needs to adopt an ordinance that would guide its creation, and that has so far been a bumpy ride, as Kelly Davis chronicled for us. This summer, City Attorney Mara Elliott released a draft ordinance, which advocates who supported Measure B panned. Elliott said she’d try again, leading advocates to ask why the city attorney was writing the law in the first place, when the measure explicitly sought to separate from the city attorney’s office. Elliott agreed in July to hire an outside law firm to write the ordinance instead, satisfying advocacy groups. 

That ordinance could be finished in the coming months, and would need to go to the City Council for approval. In his press release, Gloria said he was eager to sign the ordinance once the Council passes it. 

Christie Hill, deputy advocacy director for the regional chapter of the ACLU, said she’s glad the mayor’s package includes priorities the community has pushed for, but stopped short of praising the city for working to implement a measure approved by voters. 

“Implementing the Commission on Police Practices, that’s something the city has to do,” she said. “It’s required by law.” 

Eliminating Civil Gang Injunctions

District Attorney Summer Stephan announced in April that she’d end the use of civil gang injunctions by asking the Superior Court to lift restraining orders that dictated where people on injunction lists could go, their curfews and what colors they could wear. 

Gloria included the move in his reform package, and praised Stephan’s decision when she announced it a few weeks later. 

Before that, the elimination of gang injunctions had been a major priority for the city’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention. Before Gloria took office, the commission voted in September 2019 to recommend that the mayor and Council eliminate gang injunctions, but the action never came before the City Council for a vote. Stephan and SDPD Chief David Nisleit opposed the decision. 

“We have been pushing for this for literally years, internally and externally,” said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, executive director of Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance, and member of the commission who pushed for the recommendation to end the injunctions.  

Jones-Wright argued it was City Attorney Mara Elliott who kept the recommendation from going before the City Council, and so took issue with Gloria’s announcement pledging to work with Elliott to remove gang injunctions going forward. 

Gloria’s initial announcement, though, didn’t mention the gang commission at all. In his progress report, he noted that it came “after years of advocacy by the City’s Gang Commission and community leaders.” 

Implementing Controls for the Procurement and Use of Military-Grade Weapons

When Gloria was still in the Assembly, he proposed a bill limiting police departments’ access to military equipment. His co-author got the action through this year, requiring law enforcement agencies to get approval from city councils or boards of supervisors before the go after such gear. 

Gloria, meanwhile, has said he will unveil a new city policy that would outline clear guidelines for when the department can receive military equipment, what equipment they can seek out, and when it can be used, as the Union-Tribune reported in August. Gloria told the U-T that proposal would go before a Council committee last month, but it didn’t. In his press release, he said he’d release the proposal “in the coming months.” 

Police officers block off Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego amid protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Strengthening additional “unconscious” or “implicit bias” training for all officers

There’s no indication Gloria or the city of San Diego have added any new training procedures for SDPD officers on unconscious or implicit bias. Gloria’s progress report press release did not mention it. 

In June, the city released a study by a third party think tank that found Black people are stopped by SDPD 3.5 times as often as White people, and that Asian and Latino people were searched about 1.4 times as often as White people once they were stopped. Controlling for neighborhood demographics and crime and poverty rates, the study found Black people experience non-traffic stops 4.2 times as often as White people. Those were familiar findings as previous studies into racial disparities in traffic stops and searches in the city. 

Even if the training had been implemented, though, Jones-Wright said it was not significant. 

“This to me is not a reform at all,” she said. “It’s weak language for a weak policy. More training won’t change a damn thing.” 

Explore Policies that would limit the use of pretextual stops and consent searches

SDPD in August announced a change in its consent search procedure, one that the department referred to as a minor procedural change, Gloria categorized as a completed part of his reform package and criminal justice advocates called a half-hearted measure. 

The new measure requires that officers can search a person only after they’ve provided consent – though that consent can include “implied consent,” or “when a person’s actions or responses effectively communicate permission to search.” The policy requires officers to notify people of their rights before asking them to consent to a search, and allows people to revoke consent at any time while stipulating that searches not to be intrusive (such as by not damaging a person’s property). 

“It doesn’t go far enough, and isn’t a substitute for PrOTECT,” Hill said. 

PrOTECT, is the Preventing Over-policing through Equitable Community Treatment, an ordinance championed for years by the Coalition for Police Accountability & Transparency, a group of criminal justice-focused advocacy groups. That ordinance would prohibit all pretext stops – when officers pull a car over for a minor traffic violation because it presents an opportunity to look for evidence of an unrelated offense – and consent searches, when officers don’t have probable cause or a warrant, so ask for permission to conduct a search and often get it. PrOTECT would prohibit searches unless officers proved probable cause first, and would ban officers from asking about prior criminal history except when it’s related to an investigation. 

Pretext stops contribute to racial disparities in policing, Jones-Wright argues, and the idea of explicit consent is a misnomer: because police stops are intimidating, people are unduly coerced into waiving their rights and accepting a search. 

“This weak verbiage, this is nothing but an attempt to undermine getting PrOTECT on the books,” she said. “The PrOTECT ordinance seeks to take away the tools used for racial profiling.” 

Slowly, the PrOTECT ordinance is progressing, and could come to a Council vote as early as the coming months. When the City Attorney agreed to hire an outside law firm to write the ordinance implementing the Commission on Police Practices, she also told Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe in a memo that she’d also have outside counsel write the city’s version of the PrOTECT ordinance – the current version was written by CPAT – indicating her office lacked bandwidth. 

When it comes forward, though, it’ll still need to win support from the City Council, and the mayor. 

Advocates are hopeful, but feel confident they know where SDPD stands on it, after Officer Jenny Hall, community relations manager for the Mid-City division, sent an email to community members ahead of May budget hearings arguing that any budget cuts would hurt the department. 

“I also want to make sure you are aware of the Coalition or Police Accountability & Transparency’s (CPAT) proposed ‘PrOTECT Ordinance,’” she wrote. “The ordinance would prohibit police officers from arresting persons for theft and vandalism, along with many other crimes.” 

Reviewing police hiring practices to ensure we attract the best candidates

In his own progress report, Gloria counts this as “completed,” based on his and SDPD’s desire to “recruit more diverse candidates.”  

That follows his announcement in August that SDPD would host a career fair for just women candidates, in hopes of increasing the 17 percent share of the police force that are women. This spring’s police academy class, meanwhile, was the city’s most diverse ever, with two thirds of the 48-member class being people of color, and the 268 officers hired since the start of 2020 (before Gloria’s term) nearly matching the city’s demographics, the Union-Tribune reported. 

Adopting and implementing the Surveillance and Privacy Advisory Board ordinances

After Gloria was elected but before he took office, the San Diego City Council passed two ordinances focused on surveillance and privacy. One would regulate the city’s acquisition and use of surveillance equipment, and another that would create a privacy advisory board to oversee those concerns. 

The ordinances, written with the help of the Trust SD Coalition, emerged after a series of debacles regarding the city’s use of surveillance technology without disclosure or guiding policies. 

Gloria included them in his April reform rollout, but did not mention them in his progress report last week. 

They have not been adopted and implemented, despite their unanimous Council passage last year, because they need to go through the process of negotiating with municipal unions because they effect city staff. Once that happens, they’ll require another Council vote before they go into effect. 

Gloria’s first budget, though, included $165,000 in funding for one program manager to oversee the ordinances, if they emerge from negotiations and win Council approval. 

Remove the Office of Homeland Security as a program of the San Diego Police Department

Gloria correctly takes credit for having achieved this in his first year, moving the department from the purview of SDPD and rebranding it the Office of Emergency Services. 

When former Mayor Kevin Faulconer put the department within SDPD in 2019, as Jesse Marx reported, it made it easier for cops to distribute anti-terror funding throughout the region. The office controls about $15 million in annual federal grant funding on those issues. Now, it’s civilian employees who will make those decisions, rather than police. Gloria said the change will allow officers to focus on building trust and relationships in communities. 

Protesters gather on 6th Avenue in downtown where San Diego Police officers shot and wounded a Latino man earlier that day. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Exploring options that would limit the use of tear gas and specialty munitions

Sacramento took care of this one for Gloria, with Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signing AB 48, written by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, to create statewide standards for the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. 

The law requires officers to be trained in using so-called kinetic projectiles and chemical agents for crowd control, after injuries with such devices in the summer of 2020 – during protests following the murder of George Floyd – increased scrutiny on them.  

It also forces police departments to publish on how they’ve used crowd control weapons, specifically requiring justification for why they were used. Gloria “looks forward” to implementing this reporting requirement, his progress report reads. 

Exploring alternatives to arrest for low-level offenses with nonpolice responses

Gloria’s progress report ignores this element of his reform package, too. 

But criminal justice and homeless advocates have both pushed for changes to the city’s enforcement of crimes associated with homeless residents, even after Gloria pledged in March to “inject compassion” into the way it cleans up encampments, which can lead to police enforcement. 

Homelessness enforcement didn’t get a mention in Gloria’s package, except insofar as alternatives to arrest for low-level offenses could apply to enforcement common among homeless residence. And it’s the absence of homelessness enforcement in his list that Mitchelle Woodson, executive director of Think Dignity, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on homelessness, called “absurd.” 

“A lot of what we do in San Diego is criminalizing poverty through quality-of-life offenses like sleeping on the sidewalk or in cars,” Woodson said. “These aren’t just tickets – they’re misdemeanor charges. For that not to be included in the reform package, it shows how disconnected he is on the issue.” 

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