Three Takeaways on the Future of SDPD - Voice of San Diego

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Three Takeaways on the Future of SDPD

The department could be more transparent and is going to have to work through a lot when hiring new officers. Also, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith doesn’t seem to agree with some of his own arguments.

Tuesday night in City Heights we had a great panel discussion on the future of the San Diego Police Department. Here are three things we learned:

SDPD is at the bottom of the transparency pack.

Jim Hererra, vice chairman of the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices, said he wished SDPD would publish its policy manual online so that he could point residents to it when they have questions about the board’s decisions.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

His perspective dovetailed with research from San Diego State University professor Joshua Chanin. He is studying more than 300 police departments across the country to see how well they publicize their policies. SDPD, Chanin said, is in the bottom quarter of the departments he’s examined. It should be easier, for instance, for citizens to file complaints against officers online, he said.

Chanin said departments that have undergone federal monitoring tend to be more transparent than those that haven’t. SDPD is now under a voluntary review by the U.S. Department of Justice, a less stringent form of oversight.

Chanin and the other panelists agreed that the DOJ review should identify any problems within the department as it tries to climb out of a sexual misconduct scandal. But the key will be whether SDPD implements the recommendations.

Police staffing needs present difficult problems.

Herrera lamented the number of young officers in the force who are still learning how to be cops. On the other end of the spectrum, half the department is eligible to retire in the next four years. This gap in mid-career officers comes from the fact that for years the city didn’t hire cops as it was going through its pension scandal and the recession, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said.

New Mayor Kevin Faulconer is throwing some money at the cops to retain them and expanding police academies to hire new ones. But that won’t solve the problem on its own, said Johanna Schiavoni, an attorney and head of the Lawyers Club of San Diego. Morale matters.

As the department implements reforms such as body cameras for all patrol officers, it has to walk a line not to alienate the rank-and-file. And it has to ensure its hiring process weeds out potential problem officers at the same time it’s trying to get them on board quickly.

The city attorney doesn’t seem to believe some of his own legal arguments.

In a civil case involving the final sexual misconduct victim of ex-officer Anthony Arevalos, the city’s liable for damages.

File photo by Sam Hodgson
File photo by Sam Hodgson

During the forum, Goldsmith acknowledged that was a fait accompli because Arevalos was on duty. But in court, Goldsmith’s own lawyers spent a lot of time arguing the opposite. Goldsmith didn’t defend the city’s stance in the suit Tuesday night, instead chalking the position up to an aggressive defense.

To argue that the city wasn’t responsible for Arevalos’ actions, the city’s lawyers in court documents shifted some of that responsibility to the victim, known in court papers as Jane Doe. The city alleged Doe, “bribed” Arevalos with her panties to get out of a DUI – they later withdrew that language. City lawyers, however, continued to maintain that Doe “got what she wanted” out of the interaction with Arevalos because she didn’t get a DUI – even though she was sexually assaulted. The federal court judge in the case strongly rejected the city’s argument.

Schiavoni said that the city needs to be careful not to blame sexual assault victims. She cited a newly released study that said young women often don’t report sexual violence because they fear backlash.

At the forum, Goldsmith also addressed criticism over hiring a private investigator to tail Doe. He defended the decision, saying Doe had claimed she was afraid to go outside because of what happened to her.

The civil case is scheduled to go before a jury in August.

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