VOSD Podcast: San Diego Police Reform, Past and Future | Voice of San Diego

Public Safety

VOSD Podcast: San Diego Police Reform, Past and Future

This week on the VOSD Podcast, hosts Scott Lewis, Andrew Keatts and Sara Libby unpack what makes a protest “unlawful,” a brief history of recent police reform efforts and the future of one effort currently on the table.

Andrea St. Julian, co-chair of San Diegans for Justice, speaks at a press conference. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego and the nation have been consumed with protests and intense discourse in the last week, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Police have enormous discretion when it comes to enforcing the law, including, as we saw recently, whether to arrest demonstrators protesting the governor’s stay-at-home orders for violating those very orders.

It turns out they also have wide discretion when it comes to the decision to deem a protest unlawful, which hosts Scott Lewis, Sara Libby and Andrew Keatts discussed on this week’s show.

If a protest is deemed “unlawful,” then police have more agency, officially, to disperse a crowd with forceful tools like tear gas and rubber bullets, often escalating matters.

Reform: A Review

In light of local and nationwide calls for police reform, another VOSD story this week dug up recent history on the matter. VOSD’s Jesse Marx revisited a 2015 review initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice that delivered 40 recommendations to the San Diego Police Department for improvement.

City officials signed off on the changes, which would give law enforcement supervisors better tracking of bad behavior among other things.

But there wasn’t a lot of follow-up by elected officials. And one former official said that behind closed doors, the then-police chief was dragging her feet on enacting the changes.

Reform: A Preview

On the second half of the show, Libby interviewed the woman behind a proposed ballot measure that could reform the watchdog group that oversees San Diego police. Andrea St. Julian is the co-chair of the group San Diegans for Justice.

The proposed measure, if the City Council advances it, would appear on the November ballot. It aims to create an independent oversight committee that has more power than the current group. The current committee, St. Julian notes, can only make recommendations to police, has no subpoena power and relies on the city attorney for advice — the same attorney who represents the Police Department.

The measure appeared to gain a lot of traction this week, and earned the support of Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District Attorney Summer Stephan. But St. Julian said she’s wary of those developments. And it’s a long way from done.

“Contrary to the impression that officials are trying to portray, this is not over. We’re not even close. There hasn’t been a vote to get it on the ballot, let alone a decision on what the charter amendment is. So, I hope people understand that this is an ongoing struggle,” she said. “We need a robust, independent, citizen oversight commission, and this is the one.”

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