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Roundtable: Jail Deaths, Peace With TMD, City Attorney's Court Record, Transit Security Update

March 29, 2013 12:55 p.m.

GUESTS

David Rolland, San Diego CityBeat

Claire Trageser, KPBS News

Scott Lewis, Voice of San Diego

Brad Racino, KPBS/I-Newsource

Related Story: Roundtable: Jail Deaths, Peace With TMD, City Attorney's Court Record, Transit Security Update

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SAUER: Dave Rolland of San Diego CityBeat.
ROLLAND: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: Claire Trageser of KPBS News.
TRAGESER: Hello.
SAUER: Scott Lewis of Voice of San Diego.
LEWIS: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: And Brad Racino.
RACINO: Hi, Mark.
SAUER: People behind bars in San Diego County are dying in unusually high levels. In 2010, for example, the mortality rate for county jails was 90% higher than the national average. 46% higher than other California jails. CityBeat collected data from 2007 to 2012 regarding deaths in California's largest jail systems. Why did your reporters look at this?
ROLLAND: Lit'd be great if Dave Maas oracly Davis who did this investigation were on the show, but Dave moved to San Francisco, and Kelly is interviewing someone in the city for part of a future series. So you're stuck with me.
SAUER: We're glad you're here!
ROLLAND: Dave Maas has been doing a lot of stories on conditions in local jails and abuse cases that have been the reported in jails. And so this was kind of an extension of stuff that he's been doing, he also noticed amid those investigations -- got wind of several you deaths that occurred while people were incarcerated. So he started looking into seeing whether there was a trend and found that in fact there is. And what he found was that when you compare the mortality rate in local jails to the mortality rate as you say in other in California and nationwide, San Diego's got a fairly high rate, higher in fact than anywhere else in California.
SAUER: Okay. We know what homicides and suicides are, but you also looked at accidents.
ROLLAND: Well, accidents, we'll go into more detail as the series unfolds. We'll have four more parts to the series that we'll layout in the next five weeks. And we'll go into some of those details. But the accidental deaths largely involve drugs. So we'll look into suicides, we'll look into use of force, we'll look into addiction in jails, and we'll go in depth into 1 case that was mentioned in this week's story.
SAUER: Is that the case of Joseph Victoriany?
ROLLAND: No, it's someone else, and I'll let folks find out when we do the story.
[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: Okay. It sounds like a fascinating series. This article talks about that inmate, give us that for example.
>> That was Bernard Victorian, and he was arrested in assessment of last year, and a week later, he died. And there were a couple of points along the way that it's possible that he could have gotten help for what was ailing him. From our investigation, it was clear that authorities suspected that he had swallowed drugs, and that's what ended up killing him. He had a bag of meth that he had swallowed.
SAUER: Would this be a situation where he swallowed that, they arrested him, and this is on intake? Or is this being smuggled in?
ROLLAND: I'm not sure about that. But there was a time when guards came in at about 4:30 AM to give him breakfast, and he was apparently naked facedown laying on the floor, and they didn't bother to check to see if he was alive. They just left the breakfast and came back hours later and he was dead.
SAUER: Oh, okay. Brad?
RACINO: Yeah, I had a question, it seemed like you guys got a lot of pushback from the sheriff's department. And what it is about the culture here that is so different that kind of leads to these deaths? Do they do things differently in other counties?
ROLLAND: Well, on that I'm not sure. We'd have to do an examination of comparing all the different policies at all the jails. And frankly, I'm not sure that Dave and Kelly have done that. I think when you look at the difference between -- well, the sheriff's department, what I'm not real happy about in their response is that they're not really acknowledging that there's a problem. So when you ask about culture, I would point to that. They're not really acknowledging that it's a problem. And what they do is they point to a different way that they calculate the death rate. They calculate it by dividing the number of deaths by the number of bookings into the system, which is a lot higher number. So you're going to get a lower rate. What the bureau of justice statistics and the centers for disease control and other health organizations, they all use sort of a universal mortality rate, which is dividing the number of deaths by the average daily population of whatever population you're looking at. So San Diego County, and we have somebody quoted in the story as saying the only time we ever hear somebody complaining about the way we calculate it, this is one of the experts, complaining about using the mortality rate is when they have an unusually high mortality rate! So they choose to calculate it in different ways.
SAUER: Human nature maybe. Claire?
TRAGESER: I had another question about the sheriff's department. It seemed like they weren't very forthcoming with your requirements in providing information. I was wondering if you know about the process for how they tried to get information from them, and whether the sheriff's department was responsive.
ROLLAND: We had information laid out for them and we asked for interviews. We hoped to have a conversation with whoever they wanted to put forth, Sheriff Gore or somebody else. And sheriff Gore decided, no, we're not going to do that. You just give us your question, and we'll answer them in writing. And most of the questions we asked went unanswered. He gave us some information on suicides, which I imagine will be incorporated into our piece on suicides. He gave us all that business about how the death rate is calculated, and some other things, and sort of more general boilerplate statements about how important it is for them to take care of the people that are incarcerated.
RACINO: Was this ever the PR person for the sheriff insulted you guys on that public forum?
ROLLAND: Yes. Jan Caldwell, who is the PIO, the public information officer for the sheriff's department -- Scott is referring to an event that happened a month or so ago where she had some -- she was sort of dismissive of bloggers in particular.
TRAGESER: Wearing fuzzy slippers.
ROLLAND: Yes, and severely overweight. And amid that, she lumped us into that group of people, she said those bloggers or CityBeat, she had already -- she knew everything that we were doing.
SAUER: I'll state for the record, you've got flip-flops Onot fuzzy slippers.
[ LAUGHTER ]

RACINO: That's an interesting bit of hostility in the midst of an important investigation.
ROLLAND: Yeah, and Dave Maas is a persistent reporter, and he doesn't take no for an answer lightly, which is one of the reasons I think he's such a great reporter. He's just doggid, and he and several people in the county department have had runins in the past. So this wasn't the first time that CityBeat and the county have crossed paths.
SAUER: Let me ask you about some of the victims. So what about the inmates who died? Who were they?
ROLLAND: They're kind of all over the place. They range in age. And we're talking 60 -- we're looking at 60 people who have died between 2007 and 2011. The youngest was an 18-year-old. The oldest was a 72-year-old. Probably the one characteristic is that they're overwhelmingly male. 56 men and 4 women. 31 of them died from "natural causes." 16 committed suicide. 5 were a result of homicide. And 8 were considered accidental.
SAUER: And homicide, obviously the definition is at the hands of another. How many of those were involving jail personnel? Jailers?
ROLLAND: That I don't have at my fingertips.
SAUER: And the series is ongoing?
ROLLAND: On that point, next week is going to be the use of force.
SAUER: So how do these death rates in San Diego compare with the other large county jail systems in California?
ROLLAND: Well, we had a graph in this week's issue that laid out those ten largest jail systems. It's important to put this in perspective. I don't think as the editor of this series, and having looked at what -- sort of from an outside perspective with what Dave and Kelly came up with, I don't think that we are, you know, ringing -- okay, this is going to be tough. I don't know that we're dealing with just a tremendous, earth-shaking scandal here. What we're doing is saying, wow, this rate looks high. It's important for people to look into why it's so high.
SAUER: We're at the to which the list, and that begs a question.
ROLLAND: But it's important to point out in the same time period, Riverside County is just right behind us. We were at that -- I think the mortality rate of 202 inmates per 100,000, and Riverside was 198. And then they go down the list from there.
SAUER: Who is investigating deaths in the San Diego jails? Is it the San Diego law enforcement review board? Do they have any teeth?
ROLLAND: The citizens' law enforcement review board, CLERB, they do have a citizen's perspective, they're supposed to investigate what county cops are doing basically in this county. They're not part of the sheriff's hierarchy, really. And they don't -- the sheriff's department doesn't feel like it has to share all their information with CLERB. Kelly Davis has done a lot of reporting on CLERB in the past, and they don't have as sharp teeth as we'd like them to have. So it's really the sheriff's office itself.
SAUER: Self-policing. And remind listeners where they can find this series.
ROLLAND: Well, you can find -- this week we basically launched it, and it's a long overview of the story.
SAUER: And the website is?
ROLLAND: SBCityBeat.com. And you can pick it up in fingerprint all over San Diego.
SAUER: Very good.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: City Hall, and the latest from battling Bob, our Bob Filner. It seems that's nothing like a 2% jump on tax on tourists to bring out the knives at City Hall. The wildest episode yet is as the tourism marketing district turns occurred this week when the City Council at the urging of the city attorney Jan Goldsmith ordered Bob Filner to sign on. He refused. And Filner accused 2/3 of the council in being bought off by the hoteliers! And yesterday afternoon the mayor was at the podium in the council chambers there and he said I love you, Jan!
[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: So Claire --
TRAGESER: I think that was a little bit sarcastic.
SAUER: All right. This may be a classic love/hate relationship. Tell us what the tourism marketing district is. Oh, that name! Then we'll get into Filner's problem with it.
TRAGESER: Well, so they have a contract with the city, which was passed in November for 39.5 years, and they advertise San Diego as a tourism destination.
SAUER: They being the association of hoteliers.
TRAGESER: Yes.
SAUER: And the whole idea is to take this money and promote America's finest city as America's greatest tourist stop.
TRAGESER: TV ads and --
SAUER: So what's wrong with that?
TRAGESER: So when the council passed this in November, it's a reauthorization of this 2% fee on hotel rooms which is in addition to a 10.5% surcharge that's already paid by people who stay in hotels.
SAUER: So we're pushing 13% now if you rent a hotel room.
TRAGESER: Yeah, yeah. So Filner says that this is a bad deal for the city, and he says there's a question about -- because a fee or a tax can't be charged without a vote of the people, he's saying that it's illegal because there was never a vote on this. It's just the hoteliers who have decided.
SAUER: And the city attorney who admit this is is a tax but still says no, it was legal, we can go forth.
LEWIS: No, he doesn't say this is a tax. They consider this a business improvement district and they're self-assessing. The really interesting part is that unlike other business improvement districts, they're actually putting it on the bill that you would pay for the room. One of the districts we found calls it the tourism marketing district tax.
LEWIS: If it is a tax, then as the city attorney admits, they would have had to vote on it, but by not calling it a tax, they don't have to vote on it. Yesterday I talked to the Howard Jarvis taxpayers' association.
SAUER: The antitax folks.
LEWIS: He said he doesn't see how they could have passed this without a vote of the people either. So it's probably the first time Bob Filner and this guy have ever agreed.
TRAGESER: And Filner was pointing out, yesterday someone caught up to talk to the council and called it a tax. So Filner said, see! Even that guy calls it a tax.
SAUER: Right. And Filner -- for some reason, Jerry Sanders didn't sign this thing. And so that left this opening where Filner had the leverage to refuse to sign it here. And he run a round in court, did he not?
TRAGESER: Yeah. So the judge, which was last week, said that because the City Council didn't specifically direct Filner to sign this agreement, he doesn't have to. And so then on Tuesday, the City Council came back and said okay, we're going to vote again. We direct you to sign this. And then on Wednesday, Filner was making accusations, and he made them again at the meeting on Tuesday that because everyone on the City Council and the city attorney has received campaign donations from hoteliers that they shouldn't even be voting on this in the first place, which the city attorney says they're exempt from that, they can definitely vote on this.
SAUER: And he said tens of thousands of donations essentially alluding to the idea that they're bought off, as I said, that this is a bribe. And our friends at Investigative Newsource looked into that. What did we find?
RACINO: We found out it was grossly exaggerated, when we looked at all the City Council members that he had pointed out. Yeah, there was some money that was given in 2007 and 2012 of those candidates, but it was nowhere near tens of thousands of dollars.
TRAGESER: When you add them up together, it was maybe tens of thousands of dollars with all the council members and the city attorney.
SAUER: And over a couple of election cycles. It just didn't add up.
ROLLAND: This was really interesting to watch play out because Bob Filner was going to lose the battle. The City Council was fairly -- not unanimous, but they had enough votes to override his veto of their vote, basically forcing him to sign this particular agreement. And then it would have gone back to court. And the hammer Filner was holding was he could hold up the process for an extended period of time and go back to court and draw it out. So he kind of forced -- the hoteliers did not want to come to the table to negotiate. I think they thought his position was unreasonable from the start, that they had an agreement, that Bob was, you know, should have just because this had all played out before Bob got into office that he should just sign that agreement.
SAUER: Yeah.
ROLLAND: Because everybody had agreed to it. But he didn't like it, and he was going to use every tool in his box to draw it out.
LEWIS: And he got something out of it. The two things he got out of it, one was this indemnity right. So it's a question of whether the city would be on the hook if they were to find out that this was an illegal tax, would there be some repayment obligation of some kind? I heard a city attorney or saw on twitter them talking about how it wouldn't be a problem. But regardless, he got the hotel owners to agree or individually indemnify the city. If they do find out that this 2% fee/tax --
ROLLAND: Assessment.
[ LAUGHTER ]

LEWIS: If they found out that was illegal, and it for some reason had to be returned to the payers or the hotels, that the city wouldn't be on the hook for that. So it's a big point. And he got them to agree to and be enthusiastic about a grant proposal from the 2015 centennial celebration at Balboa Park for up to ten% of their revenue through this tax. So that could be up to, you know, $6 million. It's not obligated or guaranteed, it could be $1 or it could be $6 million. And they have to prove that that will put heads in beds for hotels.
RACINO: I had a question for Claire and also for Scott. Is this too insider baseball? I know we love this stuff, but do people actually care? It's getting so complicated, and it's such a history, and when you're reporting on this, do you see that people take an interest?
SAUER: Good question. Yeah.
TRAGESER: I was going for a run with a friend this morning, and she not in journalism, not involved in politics in any way.
SAUER: Luinches to KPBS all the time!
TRAGESER: She actually does. Religiously.
[ LAUGHTER ]

TRAGESER: So she said, what is going on about this? And she didn't seem to care very much about the specific hotel surcharge. But it was kind of the idea of this is our new mayor who is going around and creating all these battles with everything. And she definitely had the sense of oh, Bob, you know, what are you up to next, which is when you talk to journalists or people who are involved, they're kind of thinking the same way.
SAUER: So they're hearing the shouting and not the details.
LEWIS: Well, I'm used to being lonely on this one. The last five years I've been talking about this thing, and nobody cares about it till now!
[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: We care!
LEWIS: Thank you. But yes, 2004, voters rejected two attempts, voters did, two attempts to increase the hotel room tax. So it then watch it go up without a vote of the people I think is something everybody should care about. And then the question of whether that's legal has implications for all kinds of business improvement districts and others like it around town.
ROLLAND: I think a lot of people don't care about it because it's not a tax they pay.
SAUER: They're not checking into hotels.
ROLLAND: And what's interesting to me, this goes to your anecdote with your friend, just short of bringing it back to how the mayor is behaving, he had a tough -- this was a tough one for him because he had important points to make. He had valid arguments to make in this case. But he had a tougher sell with the public. It's a lot easier for the hoteliers and the City Council who are kind of all on this to say this is money that's been approved and he's locked in a box. It's an easier argument to make.
SAUER: So he says he's got the noble mission, but it's a highwire politically.
ROLLAND: It's a harder argument to articulate. It makes more brain power to wrap your head around the point that Bob is making.
LEWIS: I disagree with that. Here is a group of hoteliers who managed to get a tax without the vote of the people. And for 40 years? There's some eye-popping stats that they have. If you want to promote the city this, is a self-assessment, why don't you just give money to this thing to do it? Why do you need the government involved? Because you want to impose this tax even on people who didn't want to be a part of it. And that came through.
ROLLAND: That's an interesting point. And you have made -- I've piggybacked on your arguments that you've been making about they can just assess themselves! This is supposed to be a self-assessment. But the reason they're -- the reason they need government intervention is because most -- the lion's share of the hotels voted no on this! And this was the only way for the big hotels that wanted this to compel all the other hotels to participate. If they were just going to assess themselves, it would be a lot fewer hotels putting in more money.
TRAGESER: Do you think now that this agreement has been reached, has Filner achieved any kind of victory?
LEWIS: Well, yeah. I don't see how you can look at this situation and not assume that his behavior was vindicated.
TRAGESER: But the fee is still going to be assessed.
LEWIS: And he says it's illegal, but he got protections for the taxpayers. All he needed was something. He said I stopped this, I got something out of it. Now we'll see if the tourists return after all this.
[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: And Claire, the city attorney is to come back on April 16th with some details, right, and a final approval on this.
TRAGESER: Yeah, I believe that was the date. So it's not officially set in stone.
SAUER: But they got a deal in place.
TRAGESER: Yes.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable. There's no avoiding the spotlight for the city attorney in a place the size of San Diego. Especially when you find yourself on the wrong end of door decisions. That's where Jan Goldsmith has found himself recently. Voice of San Diego looked into several recent defeats suffered by our city attorney's office. Why did Jim embark on this story?
LEWIS: It was one of the most recent losses that he had. We have this agonizing year and a half or two years of debate about the future of Balboa Park, about this huge project that was going on. It was this very divisive, difficult debate that we all had. And if gets through everything, all the approvals, then it gets thrown out in court over a relatively -- an issue they felt they could have dealt with easily. And now it's just gone.
SAUER: And when all that goes away, everyone pivots and looks at the city attorney and says what happened here.
LEWIS: Yeah, so he said we could go back and change this law. This law that says you can redo a historical area, but only if you prove it has no beneficial use right now. We can change it as part of a project. You wonder why didn't they do that first?
SAUER: Right, right
LEWIS: And add that all together, and you start to look back, and there's a lot of interesting things like that over several cases where you're wondering do we need to reflect on the performance of the city's legal team? Do we need to think about -- and there's a bunch of cases. The city attorney was really not very excited about this story. It ended up sending this big list of all their wins. But he has an excuse for every loss! And it all has to do with one of two things. That wasn't my decision, that was the City Council's decision. Or don't worry about that, that's on appeal.
SAUER: Right.
LEWIS: But among the list of things, even the top win that he has on his list is a muddled case, and another one is a thing that he has on appeal too. So it's like you can't have it both ways.
SAUER: You looked in depth on several different cases. Let's look at a few examples. The falling palm case.
LEWIS: This was the one he was most upset on. He even argued with me on Facebook about it. That's the world we're in. You can argue with the city attorney on Facebook.
[ LAUGHTER ]

LEWIS: In 2007 and 2008, they cut the funding for trimming and maintaining palm trees in San Diego. And we brought up several stories after that in 2010 as the city started wracking up legal bills related to trees and fronds that were falling. Maintaining palm trees itself is a big deal in the city.
SAUER: At one point, they were down to one arborist, and they even wanted to lay him off.
LEWIS: And we kept saying this is a legal problem, it's a legal problem, and apparently nobody cared.
ROLLAND: Why doesn't anybody ever listen to you!
[ LAUGHTER ]

LEWIS: So a tree falls on a car, a guy goes out to get his stuff out, and another tree falls on him, crushes him, he loses his mobility, he sues the city. The plaintiffs were prohibited from talking about the city's budget cuts in this case, in this court proceeding. But the city itself decides to bring that up as an excuse!
ROLLAND: Which opens the door.
LEWIS: It opens the door for this incredible argument this lawyer makes about how you failed, you cut this, you should have known, you were on notice, and now we're paying the price. And this guy lost the use of his legs.
SAUER: So whose idea was it to bring that up and open the door?
LEWIS: Well, the trial lawyer that was representing the city, and the interview he was doing, the examination of the witness there.
SAUER: But does the buck stop with Jan Goldsmith?
LEWIS: There's just case after case that you're wondering what decisions could have been made more proactively? Just like the Balboa Park project, $45 million project that fell apart. They've lost every single one of the fireworks cases. And even when there's a settlement, is there an expectation the city attorney could have said with the City Council, look, this isn't a fight we need to keep going with? 1 case, the city's retirement system is spending $3 million right now, the city attorney is trying to prove that employees are responsible for investment losses in the pension system as much as the city is. And he revoked his motion for summary judgment. So it's questioned whether he's competent about the case. I haven't brought that up as a loss yet because he's suing himself, basically, another agency of the city.
MAUREEN SAUER: So there's even more, another case that you wrote about, be and this apparently would be appealed, the one against Kinder Morgan, the firm that left a huge plume of fuel under Qualcomm stadium, Mike Aguirre, the previous city attorney started that case. What happened?
LEWIS: If we ever want to do anything with Qualcomm, we're going to have to deal with the cleanup of this fuel plume.
SAUER: Developing it, changing it into a stadium, whatever.
LEWIS: They claimed the company was going too slow and there was a lot of problems. We spent millions of dollars working on it, and it was just plain lost. And again the city attorney said don't worry, we're going to keep fighting that. But that was a tremendous setback.
ROLLAND: I thought it was great that you looked at these, as the performance of the city attorney as a whole. We're on twitter a lot, and people who are critics of Jan Goldsmith keep pointing out the guy keeps losing these big cases! And that kept adding up for me, like, wow, there was something to this. I wondered if this caused you to reflect on the old question of how we choose the city attorney. During the Mike Aguirre day, I came to my own policy determination that I believe it's in the city's interests to have the City Council appoint an attorney for the city and have it not a politicized elected official.
SAUER: Let's talk about that. They elect the city attorney, we elect the city attorney here. How does this guy in California? Is this unusual?
TRAGESER: There was actually a story in the Union Tribune a couple weeks ago after mayor Filner and Goldsmith got into this kind of public squabble at a press conference, and it said that only 11 of 260 cities in California elect their city attorney, although those are more of the larger cities.
LEWIS: Yeah, I think there's good arguments on both sides. When Casey Gwynn was leaving he said I don't think this should be an elected position anymore. Of course that's convenient because he served his term.
SAUER: And he had his problems as well.
LEWIS: Absolutely. And I think that it's always about the people. Are we getting the best people? I'm not sure if we are or if you can prove that even, or if an appointed one would be better. But it does come down to performance. This is a performance-based legal team. And we have to get results, and they have to be good.
SAUER: Right.
LEWIS: And I don't want to think of what I did as a measurement of that performance. I wanted to understand those losses. And I think we have a better understanding of that.
SAUER: Maybe it gets to what Churchill said about democracy, it's a terrible system except when you consider all the others!
LEWIS: Well, Aguirre made passionate pleas about how this was important because the people needed representation, that's why they needed to elect. But Goldsmith is taking the view that he represents the corporation of the city, which means the council and the mayor but not the mayor sometimes, I guess. But the point being, if you're just going to represent the corporation, maybe the corporation itself should just appoint.
SAUER: Brad, did you have an idea about that? I thought you were looking at me with --
RACINO: It's just enthusiastic agreement.
[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: One more question on this, and that is the role of the city attorney, which kind of came into sharp relief during the Aguirre term. I'm the People's attorney, now it's something different. What do you think about what this all may say about the contradictions and the job and the role itself?
LEWIS: Again, Goldsmith points to the City Council very often and say they're the ones that made this decision. I'm just trying to make it work or whatever. But a legal council has an effect on their client. You can say no, this is what you should expect this, is -- you're not going to win this, or we should work this out. So you can't be completely passive. But then again, I don't think he is. He's elected, he's got his own beliefs, they're very strong beliefs, and he can say he's Apolitical all he wants, but he does have an effect on these decisions, and maybe he's had a negative one.
SAUER: And his reaction to your article?
LEWIS: You know, I didn't get an official one. He argued with me on Facebook, but I don't think he's too upset about it.
ROLLAND: Just on the matter of whether he is a political person or he gets involved in policy issues, he campaigned saying he was not a policy person. But I believe like you were just hinting at, that he does get involved. The prop B pension reform thing, he was very much in favor of that, and he has to be fighting that one in court.
SAUER: Right. Gets to the idea on roles.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable. Some things have happened since you were last on the Roundtable talking about your investigation into security or the lack of it in San Diego's transit systems. Give us a summary of what you learned about the deficiencies of universal protection service, the private security firm used both by the metropolitan transit system, and the North County Transit district.
RACINO: We found these guys are men and women who patrol all the stations and the trains and the trolleys between Oceanside and Mexico, have come forward and told us they have no idea what they're doing, they're not being trained, and it's a very dangerous working environment. So we found a lot of what they were saying to seem like it was true. We got a lot of documents everything and. Once we did that, we contacted both the metropolitan and the North County Transit district and presented them with what we found and asked for a comment, and over the last few weeks, they've addressed it in very different ways.
SAUER: So first start with the MTS.
RACINO: MTS last month had their board meeting and said they were investigating this, looking into it, and the next month, they would have more information. So we went last week to it, and they pretty much had a security briefing from their chief of police, and then the board was allowed to ask some questions. And not many. The board members took it upon themselves to ask any. David Alvarez did, and John minto, and he was the one who asked the two men from the universal protection service.
SAUER: Identify those for us.
RACINO: Oh, I'm sorry -- they're MTS boardmen. They started asking some questions, and pretty much they danced around the issue. And at the end, John minto said why don't you just open your books and let us see and put all these concerns to rest? So the president of universal said okay, we'll do that. But then there wasn't really any follow-up or details of when that would happen.
SAUER: I see. So Alvarez, at least they were asking questions.
RACINO: Yeah, Alvarez was giving it his best effort. It's a lot of detail, a lot of training, and it's just like a police force. So unless you're in the police and these terms like police officer standards training and all this, he was dancing around it and trying to get to a point. And John minto took it upon himself because he 7ed for 30 years with the police department and he took the reins and started asking the tougher questions.
SAUER: What effect is this having on public and employee safety?
RACINO: Well, it depends who you talk to. If you talk to the company itself, they don't seem to see it as a very big concern. The chairman of the MTS board harry Mathis said last week that no one does it better than San Diego when it comes to security. If you talk to the guards, and you talk to some other people, they're scared out of their mind. There was a shooting a couple weeks ago where four of these guards were targeted, there have been shootings in the past, there was a hostage situation in 2011 that was never discussed. So these guys are out there, they're alone, they're patrolling all the way down to the border to Mexico sometimes at 3:00 in the morning. And when they get into the thick of it, and they have no partners and no one around, it can be pretty dangerous. And for passenger safety, if something were ever to happen, the first person you're going to look toward is someone in a uniform carrying a gun.
SAUER: Right.
RACINO: So you might be looking at the wrong person!
SAUER: The first one you mentioned a few weeks ago, give us some details on that. A shooting where these folks came and went.
RACINO: Right. There were four guards at the Chula Vista bay front trolley station around 11:00 at night. They got into an altercation with a couple of guys. And the men left and they thought everything was fine. A couple minutes later, they pulled up in an olds mobile, and they just opened fire. They hit the ground, they were instructing people to stay in the trains. And they advanced on the car, the guys got away, and they never found them. Thigh went to the cc TVs to get the profiles of these guys, and the photos were so bad they couldn't identify them. Even the Chula Vista police department couldn't do anything about it.
SAUER: And that highlighted what we're talking about. But it was different in North County, right?
RACINO: Right, North County responded very quickly to our investigation. And they said we're looking into if, and they had an audit of all the training files for Universal and found a ton of stuff. They found -- they pretty much validated every single thing we said. These guys had no record of firearms training, no CPR, 1st aid certificate, all the things laid out in these multimillion dollars contracts that say these guys can do this, there's no record of that training in any files. So they gave them an ultimatum and said you need to fix this and quick by this date, and accordingingly MTS fixed what they could.
SAUER: So two transit boards, same company, and a vastly different response! That must have been head-spinning as a reporter of the
RACINO: It was a little bit. And I think NCTD took it more to heart and had a good reaction to this. What a lot of this comes down to is the turnover rate of these boards. These people serve for very short terms, and they're expected to know everything about this gigantic, multimillion dollars organization and most of them don't. I did have lunch with John minto though, and he appears to be on it.
SAUER: Is this maybe an example of this ongoing debate between farming everything out to the private sector as much as people, which tends to be from the local or federal level or conserve view in this country and having more staff, less turnover, having it in-house where city workers or state or whatever agency we're talking about has this on staff, you're paying for the full-time benefits, the pensions, etc? Do you think this is an example of maybe it doesn't always work in the private sector to bail it out? Any thoughts?
TRAGESER: Well, I was going to ask how the system compares to other cities. Is it run in a similar way to, say, San Francisco?
RACINO: No, what they do, San Diego is one of only three cities we could find in the entire country that do this kind of contracting and outsourcing of their security force. Almost every other city contracts with the local police department and sheriff's department as do these, but they don't have many people they're contracting with because it's extensive. So they put the money toward the private security force.
ROLLAND: To get to your question, Mark, there's a couple of things you weigh when you're talking about public versus private. You can look at what people are paid. Are they getting comparable wages, and are they getting food benefits and that sort of thing? That speaks to whether people are happy and productive on the job and that sort of thing.
SAUER: And also to the profit motive for the private company.
ROLLAND: Sure. But then the other thing is you need accountability and transparency in these contracts, whether the service is being provided, and that's true, whether it's being provided by the government agency or a private contractor. So you have taxpayers here paying about -- together about $9 million a year for this service for both these transportation --
SAUER: And if you had all full-time trained police officers in these jobs instead of supplemented with the private security, what's the difference?
ROLLAND: Well, to the point of the story, you don't have all that training and those certifications and what not that are in the contract, right? So you have these contract business that are not being fulfilled. And are there -- is there teeth in the enforcement of these contracts and what do the taxpayers, how can they get recourse?
SAUER: That's a lot we've thrown at you, Brad!
[ LAUGHTER ]

RACINO: Well, it's interesting because a lot of transit districts in California have had their funding just stripped away over the last few years, and they've dealt with it in very different ways. When you get to the contracting out of services, I'm not going to take this idea either way, it is what it is. But I think that's -- what it comes down to is the oversight function. If you're going to contract stuff out, you have to have someone looking over the contracts and saying this is being done or this isn't. And that's what's lacking over the years.
SAUER: And every contract has deliverables. Someone at the security company is supposed to say through logs and reports and what have you to the people of the boards that you were reporting on this week, you are properly trained. You are spending money on firearms training, CPR training, you are paying a wage and attracting a person into this job that will protect the public and the employees' safety. But that seems to be from your reporting one of the breakdowns in this situation.
RACINO: Right.
SAUER: And again if we had police officers there, you would have -- they're trained, experienced lieutenants, sergeants, etc. Who deal with them and many other situations.
RACINO: Right. And John minto was a police officer in his city with Santee, they contract out to the sheriff's department. And I don't remember the exact number. I think he said 35 sheriffs. And he said that costs us $12 million. And here we have these security guards costing us $6 million. Where is that money going?
SAUER: Exactly. You're going to continue following up on this?
RACINO: Oh, yeah. We'll be monitoring it. I'm going to be talking to the president of can Universal on Tuesday. So we'll follow up and see what he has to say.
ROLLAND: Good story by the way.
RACINO: Thank you.