Shelley Zimmerman To Replace William Lansdowne As San Diego Police Chief
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Aired 2/27/14 on KPBS News.
Shelley Zimmerman was named Wednesday by Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer to be the new police chief of San Diego.
Shelley Zimmerman will become the first female police chief in San Diego history when she takes over next week as William Lansdowne officially retires. The 31-year veteran takes over amid sexual-abuse scandals that placed an unfavorable light on the department recently.
That announcement was made late Wednesday afternoon by Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer. It came as somewhat of a surprise as some city leaders, including interim Mayor Todd Gloria, had hoped for a nationwide search to find a new chief.
"There is no better choice to lead this department than Shelley Zimmerman," the new mayor said. "She understands clearly what will be acceptable in the department and what will not be."
Zimmerman, who has worked in vice, narcotics, internal affairs and community relations, will "ensure trust within the police department and ensure and insist upon the highest standards," Faulconer added.
Flanked by Councilwoman Marti Emerald and Lansdowne, Faulconer said Zimmerman was ideal for the job and that no further search was needed.
Emerald, who heads the council's Public Saftey Committee, lauded outgoing Chief Lansdowne as she noted it is an historic day for San Diego as the city's first female police chief comes aboard.
"William Lansdowne has shepherded this department through 10 years of rocky waters, including tough budget issues, and he has done it with class and great confidence," Emerald said. She noted Zimmerman was mentored by Lansdowne and expressed great confidence in the new chief.
Zimmerman said she totally supports an outside audit of the police department, which Faulconer said will commence soon.
And the new chief vowed that misconduct by officers will not be tolerated going forward.
"As a proud member of our division, I can say all our officers will serve with professionalism and integrity," Zimmerman said.
The spotlight is a familiar place for any big-city police chief. But Lansdowne faced its uncomfortable glare quite often in recent weeks as allegations of sexual misconduct, one after another, were lodged against a few of his officers.
Ex-SDPD officer Anthony Arevalos was convicted in November 2011 of felony and misdemeanor charges involing multiple counts of sexual battery by restraint against five women. (A judge, however, overturned two of those counts and ordered Arevalos’ nine-year sentenced reduced on Tuesday, the day Lansdowne announced he was stepping down.)
The American Civil Liberties Union renewed the civil rights group's call for an audit of the police department.
"Throughout his tenure Chief Lansdowne had an open door policy with regards to community concerns and was open to dialogue with the ACLU. We hope that Chief Zimmerman will continue this dialogue and will be as accessible to discuss matters of concern with community organizations. We look forward to working with Chief Zimmerman to fulfill Chief Lansdowne's request of a full department audit to address recent allegations of abuse and harassment," the ACLU said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Officer Christopher Hays was arrested and charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of groping women (he has since quit the force); and Lansdowne reported last week that another officer is under investigation for similar allegations.
Still, city leaders were uniformly laudatory in their comments about Lansdowne as the chief announced his retirement.
Faulconer, who said the chief’s decision to leave was “his alone,” gave Lansdowne high praise for his decade-plus of service in leading San Diego’s lean force of 1,856 sworn officers.
Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, who returns to his job as Council president next week, said Lansdowne "has served San Diego exceptionally well," leaving the city with its lowest crime rate since the 1960s.
"I'm grateful for his tremendous contributions to San Diego," Gloria said, who called for a national search to find a successor.
The San Diego Police Officers Association praised Zimmerman in a statement, saying she "has accomplished a great deal that may have gone unnoticed by our members" and "we look forward to working with Chief Zimmerman to move our department forward."
"Shelley Zimmerman is the right choice for the job. She recognizes and understands the bounty of talent that we all know exists within our department. We anticipate she will be making leadership moves that will renew confidence in our department for both officers and citizens alike."
Lansdowne told The Los Angeles Times that he is proud to leave the department "in very good shape. We've got very good leadership and for the first time in 10 years we're going to be able to rebuild the department."
The city is down about 200 positions due to unfilled vacancies as San Diego struggled with financial problems in recent years. And attrition rates have been high for officers, who often leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere.
Voters failed to approve a sales-tax hike to pay for more police, but Faulconer campaigned on a promise to beef up the force and find money elsewhere in the budget to do so.
Crime dropped considerably in San Diego under Lansdowne’s watch, a fact noted by several San Diego politicians, as well as the Police Officers Union, in bidding the chief farewell.