Morning Report: How Police Accountability Works, for Now | Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: How Police Accountability Works, for Now

Breonna Taylor San Diego
San Diego Police officers guard the San Diego Police Department headquarters in downtown as protesters gather on Sept. 23, 2020 following a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to charge police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Killings of unarmed people of color by police officers over the past few years have created growing momentum to try and hold officers accountable.

In a new San Diego 101 Podcast episode, hosts Adriana Heldiz and Maya Srikrishnan explain who holds the police accountable (it’s mostly up to them) and how well that does — or doesn’t — work.

Heldiz and Srikrishnan talk to VOSD’s Jesse Marx about the 2018 killing of Earl McNeil in National City Police Department custody. They also talk to family members of Jonathan Coronel, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in 2017, and Alfred Olango, who was killed by an El Cajon Police Department officer in 2016. All of those killings were deemed justified by the San Diego District Attorney.

Listen to the new episode here.

We’ve also got two new San Diego 101 videos.

One features VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt, who breaks down which laws the city has been enforcing against homeless people living on the streets and sidewalks.

The second, featuring Marx, explains how jurisdictions throughout San Diego have been using more surveillance technology over the past several years. This technology is collecting more information about us than ever before — and there’s a whole lot of risks in that.

It’s Law and Justice week: Politifest kicked off Monday night. Marx explored surveillance technologies local and even multinational enforcers deploy. The technologies are powerful but provoke a lot of questions about privacy and efficient government.

Erik Caldwell, former head of the city of San Diego’s Sustainability Department, which ran a controversial data-gathering streetlights program, spoke frankly about local governments often suffering from shiny object syndrome when it comes to “smart” technology. What was first proposed as a tool to collect energy-saving and climate-related data in San Diego migrated into use by law enforcement, he said.

“That was largely because officials at the city working on that project at the very beginning didn’t understand that technology and couldn’t ask the right questions,” Caldwell said. 

Marx pointed out that technology is often viewed as a kind of impartial being; it is inherently created by humans who carry and therefore impart biases on how the tech is used. 

That was the main concern for Khalid Alexander, president and founder of Pillars of the Community, which advocates for those negatively impacted by law enforcement. 

“The thing that worried me the most about this tech was its potential… and how we let it be used to identify broken individuals that don’t fit under the norm of society,” Alexander said. 

Graciela Zamudio, founder of Alma Migrante, panned that concern out for us on an international scale, explaining how surveillance technology is often misused at the U.S.-Mexico border by law enforcement seeking suspects for extradition. 

“This is a violation of international law,” Zamudio said. 

It’s not too late to join us: Today we have a panel that will look at racial disparities in sentencing and what’s being done to address them. Local journalist Kelly Davis will be moderating the panel with Laila Aziz from Pillars of the Community, Elsa Chen from Santa Clara University, Jay Jordan from the Alliance for Safety and Justice and Dwain Woodley from the San Diego District Attorney’s office.

Grab your tickets here. Have questions for our panelists? Share them here.

Lemmon Departs Building Trades After “Unintended Compensation” Discovery

Tom Lemmon, the longtime leader of the powerful San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council, announced his retirement last week.

Andrew Keatts reports in a new story that Lemmon agreed to leave following the discovery that he had been paid up to $200,000 he was not entitled to, a document obtained by Voice of San Diego shows.

The document is an agreement between Lemmon and the Council, an umbrella group of construction trades unions. The agreement reveals the organization conducted a review of executive compensation over the last five years and found Lemmon had been paid between $20,000 and $40,000 more than he was supposed to each year. The document says the payments, which it refers to as “unintended compensation,” had been disclosed to and “arguably approved” by the group’s board, but that Lemmon and the organization agree he was not entitled to them.

The agreement stipulates that Lemmon will resign all offices he holds with the organization, effective Oct. 13, and the organization would defer to him in announcing his retirement, which he did a day later. He will not be forced to repay the money.

In a statement to Voice of San Diego, a Building Trades board member explained the unintended compensation as the result of an “error in our wage calculations” in 2017. He said Lemmon’s decision to retire was made independent of the discovery of the payments. 

  • The agreement, though, restricts Lemmon from entering his former employer’s place of business “at any time for any reason.” In six months, he’ll be permitted to attend public events at the Olivewood Community Center, an event space owned by Building Trades.

Read Keatts’ story here.

Background: Lemmon had emerged in recent years as the most prominent labor leader in San Diego. He led the push for project labor agreements — union contracts stipulating wage and benefits for construction work — as part of all major public projects, and a brand of union solidarity that meant other types of labor groups were also prioritized in major decisions, like the potential construction of a Convention Center. The coalition he has led played significant roles in most major political races in town in the last five years.

City, State Team to Address Homeless Camps Along Freeways

Mayor Todd Gloria, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Caltrans on Monday announced the start of a new outreach effort focused on aiding homeless San Diegans living along state highways.

Camps have proliferated along freeways the past several months, as the Union-Tribune reported in August.  Newsom earlier this year directed $2.7 million to Caltrans to help the state transportation agency clear trash and help connect homeless residents who have set up camp on Caltrans property with support and housing.

Gloria’s office said nonprofit City Net, which runs outreach programs elsewhere in the state, will deploy three outreach teams that will coordinate with the San Diego Housing Commission and local providers to connect homeless residents with shelter and other services starting this month. The contract runs through June 2022.

Haitian Migrants Continue Coming to Tijuana

While the recent arrival of 30,000 Haitians at the Texas border drew international attention, officials in Tijuana have also seen a rise in applications from Haitians in recent weeks.

The latest Border Report features some of those Haitians and how they’re evaluating whether they will stay in Tijuana or try to cross the U.S. border.

We have a new Border Report writer and we are pretty excited: It’s Sandra Dibble, who covered the San Diego-Tijuana region for 27 years at the San Diego Union-Tribune until her retirement last year.   

Read the Border Report here.

In Other News

  • A comprehensive evaluation of city parks shared with San Diego’s infrastructure committee last week recommended the city spend $213 million on repairs and upgrades. The report found that a majority of the city’s 235 parks are in good or fair condition, but 28 parks — most of which are located in middle-income and low-income districts — are in poor condition. (Union-Tribune)
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is getting ready to unveil artwork by San Francisco-based Chicana artist Yolanda López. The trailblazing artist died last month at the age of 78. López was born and raised in San Diego, and later moved to San Francisco where she joined the Chicano movement. The exhibit will open Saturday and feature 50 art pieces. (NPR)

This Morning Report was written by Maya Srikrishnan, Andrew Keatts, MacKenzie Elmer and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Megan Wood.

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