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San Diego’s First Female Police Chief Says She Welcomes Sex-Abuse Audit Of Department

Evening Edition

San Diego's new police chief, Shelley Zimmerman, is a 31-year veteran on the force. She is now one of only eight women police chiefs in major U.S. cities.

Zimmerman, 54, took over the department amid sexual-abuse scandals and allegations of racial profiling by officers during traffic stops.

Zimmerman said an outside audit of her department’s procedures is a good idea in light of the recent sex-abuse scandal involving officers.

“I welcome this review this audit to come in, to take a look at our procedures, to take a look on how we do business and if they can come up and show us how we can have improvement, we very much welcome it," she said. "Because we don’t want the officers that are going to discredit the badge, and if they can help us predict to not even hire those officers, we welcome that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties criticized Zimmerman's appointment to chief in part because of racial profiling in the community. A KPBS and Voice of San Diego investigation earlier this year revealed the department failed to monitor racial profiling.

In response, former Police Chief William Lansdowne said the department would begin collecting racial data at traffic stops and he proposed officers wear body cameras to combat racial profiling.

Zimmerman said she will continue with those actions to address racial profiling and she said she will be meeting with the ACLU and the NAACP on Monday.

"It's critically important that we have the open dialogue, and if there's a perception that we are racially profiling or a perception that we're not doing something that the public believes that we should be doing that is a concern," Zimmerman said.

She said 10 officers are already testing body cameras and she intends to outfit the entire department with cameras.

Police officer retention is another immediate challenge for the department, Zimmerman said, with about half of the patrol force eligible to retire within the next four years.

"We are working on all of that, to not only attract the very best, but retain our officers as long as we can over these next four years so we can stabilize, and so we’re looking at stabilization for our department, and that is a challenge in both of those areas.”

In fact, pension rules require that Zimmerman retire in four years. With only a relatively short time to lead the department, Zimmerman said there's a lot she wants to accomplish.

"(It's) critically important to that we bring up the leadership of our officers into leadership positions, to sergeants, to lieutenants, to captains, to assistant chiefs," she said. "So we'll be able to be positioned well for the next chief to take over and not have these challenges that I'm facing now."