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District Attorney Summer Stephan, responding to weeks of police brutality protests and calls for criminal justice reform, has announced a suite of policy changes she hopes to improve policing in San Diego County.
Experts, though, said her proposals are welcome changes that could help, but don’t go far enough to deal with the most pressing problems in police departments across the country.
Stephan’s most significant proposed reform would treat employees within police departments who see or hear about officer misconduct much like school employees who hear about teacher abuse of students. It would mandate that they report the behavior to a superior who could act on the misconduct.
One expert told Maya Srikrishnan it was a useful change, and that police staff too often stay quiet when they know of problems. But the school system’s mandatory reporter regime on which it’s based is, in practice, toothless. VOSD earlier found that the district attorney didn’t prosecute anyone in San Diego County for failing to fulfill mandatory reporter responsibilities from 2002 to until May 2019.
Stephan would also expand the use of training for officers to eliminate their racial biases. An expert told Skrishnan it was necessary, but not sufficient, to combat systemic racism in policing.
One area her reforms don’t address: the lack of prosecutions against officer misconduct from the district attorney’s office, which experts said mirrors a national problem. San Diego prosecutors have brought excessive use-of-force charges only once in the last five years, and a jury last June acquitted the two Sheriff’s deputies involved.
The Metropolitan Transit System board voted unanimously Thursday to take more aggressive steps to reduce the burden of fare evasion tickets than initially proposed by agency staff a day after a Voice of San Diego story laid out how those tickets can terrorize those who receive them.
The board voted to approve a pilot diversion program set to roll out in September that will reduce fines to $25 if fare evaders pay within 120 days. There will also be options to complete community service and to appeal tickets. The board, made up of more than a dozen local government officials, also ordered MTS officials to allow those who can not prove they have a fare to immediately deboard to buy a ticket. Tickets that are not addressed within 120 days would be sent to the San Diego County Superior Court.
More change is likely coming. At City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery’s urging, the board also directed MTS staff to develop a plan to establish a civil citation process for fare evasion. This would mean citations would no longer be sent to the Superior Court, where unpaid tickets can balloon to $500 and be sent to collections.
VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt found 86 percent of nearly 1,500 fare evasion citations MTS gave out in a single week last June remained unpaid and unaddressed nearly a year later, leading virtually all of them to be referred to collections. Tickets sent to collections can wreak havoc on the credit and lives of those who receive them and can lead the state to garnish funds from fare evaders’ paychecks, bank accounts and tax returns.
It’s been almost a month since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Since then, cities across the nation have seen near daily protests and demands for justice, including San Diego.
VOSD’s Adriana Heldiz covered several protests across the county and shared what she saw in a captivating photo essay.
“Much of the coverage surrounding the demonstrations has focused on the arresting imagery of burning banks and broken storefront windows, but the protests I documented across the region for VOSD – from La Mesa to Encinitas to downtown – have been overwhelmingly peaceful and effective in conveying their message,” writes Heldiz.
Speaking of the Protests …
Youth activists who organized police brutality protests in North County over the last several weeks will join reporter Kayla Jimenez today on our livestream series Voice of San Diego at Home. They’ll discuss their communities’ long histories of silence on racial justice issues and motivations to organize for racial justice and Black Lives Matter.
San Diego Unified hired its first black teacher in 1942 to teach at Memorial Junior High in Logan Heights when the district opened up hiring amid an influx of new students and a shortage of male teachers due to the war.
Three years later, the hiring of a black teacher at Pacific Beach Junior High showed just how deep-rooted racism could be here. Parents rebelled over the hiring and even appealed to state officials to step in when the district refused.
VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga makes a special appearance in this week’s Learning Curve newsletter to remind us of the forgotten stories of San Diego’s pioneering black teachers and where we are today.