SDPD Rogue Officers Cause Embarrassment
An unprecedented rash of criminal misconduct involving San Diego city police officers prompted San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne to issue a public apology this week. We rely on the professionalism of the police force to keep order in our society, and when our confidence int he police starts breaking down, it's an insecure feeling.
Guests: Michael Smolens, government editor, SDUT
Jeanette Steele, reporter, SDUT
Scott Lewis, CEO, Voiceofsandiego.org
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.
ALISON ST JOHN: So the police, an unprecedented rash of criminal misconduct involving San Diego city police officers prompted San Diego police chief to issue a public apology this week and it raises worrying questions because we rely on the professionalism of the police force to keep the order in our society and the faith in the police force starts to break down it is an insecure feeling. We would like to invite you if you have any comments on this on this, remember the number 888-958-5727 get the calls in early because we move fast on the roundtable. So, Scott, tell us the details. What are the police officers accused of doing?
SCOTT LEWIS: That's important, let's put some of this in perspective. They were DUIs, domestic violence, stalking, and then there are deeply troubling incidents of police officer using his authority to demand sexual favors or even to rape and kidnap somebody. These are accusations we need to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty.
ALISON ST JOHN: Yes
SCOTT LEWIS: I think if they are true and if the trend continues and if it becomes a worry that we are becoming the kind of society, a second sort of corrupt society where if you do not have a police force you can trust, it is a sign of a very troubling trend in society so I think that is the issue. You know we give our police officers a tremendous amount of authority literally to take our freedom, to threaten us with force and we do that because we need them to protect us but it also comes with a level of trust that we have to maintain and be extremely vigilant about. And you know we need to have as much outrage about abuses as the authority as we do about there over pay or benefits or whatever comes up before the industries is tremendous questions about the actual culture of the San Diego Police Department right now and we're going with this? There are a lot of changes going on not just with cutbacks but with changes in focus and this is going to be a very interesting several months of introspection as we try to figure out what to call from now for the department.
ALISON ST JOHN: Just to fill in the facts, all after the altercation with a teenager, rape, domestic violence, felony drunk driving, starting harassing phone, calls sexually harassing four women while on duty, stealing and the latest one was kidnapping, allegedly kidnapping and rape. So what do you think, Michael, is it there's a lot of bad apples only once by chance or is this a trend?
MICHAEL SMOLENS: I haven't seen any analysis of is this a spike at this time and over the course of a year do we see these many instances of this kind of behavior? I mean obviously it is unfortunate on a number of fronts. You know, the city and the region, the nation really are reveling in the fact that we are at historic crime rates, something that is happening partially to please the culture to sentencing and all sorts of stuff and other scams and to really raise questions and I don't if it is cyclical. Back in the 90s there were corruption concerns in the police department, relationships with a prostitute who was an informant and that was a lot of problems. The trust issue is here to remember the CHP Ofc. Craig Peyer was convicted of murdering Cara Knott and instantly people are telling stories and should we stop when red lights are flashing because we don't know what the intentions are. One of the things we were talking about before the show that is really unique now as it seems like everything is on camera people are videotaping everything and anything that would have that would cause modification maybe because some police officers have been caught in recent years by cameras and yet we are seeing a spike. So you know, nobody has got any answers right now the analysis as to the why it is so speculative and so many different directions that this concept is going to really have to be a hard look as to what is going on.
ALISON ST JOHN: We have a caller on the line is talking about the specific issue of the video cameras. Frank is calling from San Diego, let's go to Frank. Frank are you there? Okay there he is.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm glad you brought the video up. I happen to have a video I am standing in my own privately owned single-family residential home and the officer is outside at my door, and the officer is threatening to arrest me if I do not turn off my video camera. And I strongly believe, even though it is not going to prevent all this behavior, but I am sure that people videotaping are encouraging proper behavior of all government officials and I believe that not only the government should allow, I mean this has become a national discussion.
ALISON ST JOHN: Thank you, Frank. There was even a piece this morning on Morning Edition about a teenager arrested on her bus for using a cell phone to video of the police arresting a suspect on her bus. I wanted to ask you Frank, what happened in your case when the police came to your home?
NEW SPEAKER: I got scared and shut up. That's how it works. I do believe we might need stronger regulations on what is done with the video. I do not, I think there should be stronger penalties if the videos are misused. But I do believe that in this country we should not come our government shouldn't be like China or other dictatorships and should encourage all people to be vigilant with their video cameras and record any behavior that we feel is not appropriate and then turn the video over either to responsible media or responsible government officials, whatever. I think that what on the long-term improved the behavior of all officials.
ALISON ST JOHN: Okay Frank, thank you for that comment. Michael?
SCOTT LEWIS: Why was the police officer at his door for, if you don't mind sharing?
NEW SPEAKER: Well, actually that situation was very current. I was helping a mother with a daughter putting a roof over her head, and the agreement was at the end of high school term, that they would move out, and it didn't work out that way.
SCOTT LEWIS: Okay.
ALISON ST JOHN: So but the issue of whether people have the right to video our own peace officers in action is an interesting question, isn't it don't know whether you feel Scott or Michael, but it's really realistic to control the use of a video. I mean, now that people have cell phone cameras with videos, you really cannot really legislate that perhaps. But what do you feel about the right of people to video police action?
SCOTT LEWIS: Well an officer has a right to expect certain response to his request and such so if you're resisting that in some way whether it is by flipping him off or by holding a camera in front of their face perhaps there is some balance that is needed are predicting that the overall point is that we need to have if someone is happening and one of the options that chief Lansdowne put out when he said he would respond to this is that we need an anonymous hotline where you can call in and say this happened to me, I'm not necessarily looking for personal recompense for it, but you need to take care of this, and that sort of thing along with the boosting of internal affairs and whatnot needs to be addressed but then we also need to look at the culture of the police department right now. They've pulled away in many ways from community policing, actually solving and going out in a preventative way to solve crimes. We've gotten rid of storefronts, police storefronts, code compliance officers and cuts to things like graffiti removal teams and stuff like that and at the same time they've also been evolving managers and supervisors and overseers of what was happening great so you have to wonder if we have a bunch of police officers mainly responding to very stressful emergency situations as opposed to perhaps less stressful police work of preventing things and then also getting rid of the overseers that help them understand what is right and what is not right and really providing a level of discipline you now and there has been some tremendous, you know, a lot of cuts come into the police department but it's often come to the management and so maybe we need to reflect on that as well but I think the point is that we are at a crossroads right now and there needs to be a collective outrage about this, not just about how much please get paid or whatnot, but about how we are running the department and whether we need to respond with major changes to its culture and I think that is the dialogue that if there is any positive that comes out of his hideous.
ALISON ST JOHN: It's interesting. our reporter Katie Orr did a piece just this morning speaking with Martin Stanford or who is a longtime ago vet of the vice chief of the police department and he was making the point that this is a nationwide trend actually and what it reflects is a change toward a more militaristic sort of approach to policing ever since 9/11. And as you point out Scott, kind of a move away from the neighborhood policing approach which incidentally our mayor was much involved with when he was the chief of police.
SCOTT LEWIS: Nationally recognized and has pushed toward that end. He shot for a time where he said we would want police officers to spend 60 percent of their time responding to emergency efforts, the reporter (Tikh Kyle) found that the emphasis is changing and now they are looking at more than 80% of an officer's time is spent responding to emergency situations. We have driven also on the pay and benefits are going to sit here and say you know, we need to pay officers more or they are going to rape people. Obviously that is a horrible construct, the point is we need to decide what kind of elite force we want here. Want to make sure we are attracting the type of person that we want to be a police officer, an elite, a smart, somebody who might consider going to be FBI or CIA or officer in the military or some, even just a thinker in these positions rather than just getting some market value possession of this. If they want to fight for better benefits and better. Let's fight for an elite force that we can be proud of and trust because if this happened to your wife or your daughter or something like that you can imagine just the pain and fear that that would instill. And it is pain and fear that populations, minority populations and ethnic groups have dealt with for years and we need to really address that culture and see what kind of force we want and credit or debit
ALISON ST JOHN: So Michael, Chief Lansdowne has been stressing budget cuts and losing police officers, he's lost 300 police officers he says partly to do with this (inaudible).
MICHAEL SMOLENS: It's hard to take a view from the clouds above of what the problem is on the level triggers a lot of stress people not get a lot of sympathy from the public that everybody is under stress, projects are being cut pay is being cut, benefits are being cut up police obviously have a lot of different kinds of stress in terms of threats to their safety and things like that. I have a great deal of respect for Norm Stamper and the whole notion that we've moved away from neighborhood policing more militaristic. It may be a combination of things but the fact of the matter is that the crime rate has been down. Something has been working. I think what they need to do before trying to come to these broader conclusions as to what the problem is is look at the behavior. Are the cutbacks limiting them really looking at signs in some house cleaning people not just applicants but once they are on the force are they seeing signs of behavior that are being brushed or swept under the rug of it. And I think that is where you need to start. We can have a discussion of pay and the kind of policing I think the public is going to have a whole lot of tolerance for the larger discussion at this point. But what they are going to do about it more directly where the rubber meets the road.
ALISON ST JOHN: We have to take a break and we're going to come back and take a call from Brad on the subject. You are listening to the Editors Roundtable with Michael Smolens, Scott Lewis and we will be joined by Jeanette Steele. Stay with us. You are at the editors roundtable here on TP BS with Michael smile and Scott Lewis Jeanette Steele and myself Alison St. John we are talking about police misconduct. We have a caller on the line, Brad from Kensington. Thanks for joining the roundtable, Brad, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: And it is comical that we develop said about the behavior of police officers when they pay a 20 year veteran in San Diego the same as a rookie in Chula Vista. You can't expect as was said to get an elite force or even a competent force when you're drawing people that are not necessarily going to go for other jobs or this job because they are getting paid as much. The real fear for me as a citizen here is when stories like this come out and they come out in such a rapid succession, you hear of talk of privatization of the police force when incidents like this come about and that for me, you lose all accountability or you lose a large part of your accountability when you lose a police force through privatization. That is the real fear.
ALISON ST JOHN: Okay, Brad, that is bringing a whole other ball of wax into the conversation and from what I understand that is not something the city of San Diego has ever considered as a possibility.
SCOTT LEWIS: Even the most ardent conservatives I've talked to, people like even Tony Krvaric at the County Republican Party says at least the city needs to maintain a public safety police force, and he is about boiling off just about virtually everything else. I think that that is an important point, but look at Chula Vista. They have had to go through incredible cutbacks in services that they provide citizens. They have now nine police officers for every 10,000 residents. San Diego still has 13, 14, up to 15, I can't remember exactly what the number was per 10,000 residents. So I don't know if we are spread too thin as much as they're stressed. There is a sickness somewhere in there, and one of the chief's recommendations was that they do a wellness evaluation as much as a performance evaluation and perhaps that would help screen can find some of these problems like Michael said that need to be found before they, they need to preventative committee policing in their own ranks.
ALISON ST JOHN: Just before we move on to the next topic, Michael, what you think about Lansdowne's plan, do you think he's taking enough action?
MICHAEL SMOLENS: I think it was obviously a good move to come out with a plan. The timing is unfortunate that the report of the alleged kidnap report and rape came right after that.
SCOTT LEWIS: The day after that.
MICHAEL SMOLENS: I don't want to attribute it just to bad luck, but what Scott says that indicate continued evaluation of training to focus on the issues of pay and benefits are certainly realize the caller has suggested, but I think I can rightly or wrongly the public is going to have sympathy limited sympathy on that same that is the problem that they expected people to be the cops, and on a final note, this is such a still a small portion of the police department and now it is easy to do broadbrush aspects. There is a problem that they have to address but let's not look at everything and every person in a blue uniform on the street and be nervous about the person automatically.
ALISON ST JOHN: Okay we hope that the run of reports stops right there at 10 police officers and chief Lansdowne manages to get a handle on this but we will certainly be keeping an eye on this trend that seems to be.