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Public Safety

San Diego Cops To Change Tactics That Upset Minority Communities

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman told an audience at Cherokee Point Elementary School in City Heights she's committed to regaining the trust of the community at a March 26, 2014 town hall meeting.
Megan Burks
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman told an audience at Cherokee Point Elementary School in City Heights she's committed to regaining the trust of the community at a March 26, 2014 town hall meeting.
San Diego Police Training Bulletin On Curb-Sitting
In this April 9, 2014 training bulletin San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman outlines new guidelines for sitting individuals on the curb during police stops.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.
San Diego Police Training Bulletin On Probation Inquiries
In this April 9, 2014 training bulletin, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman asks officers to stop the widespread questioning of individuals on their probation and parole status.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The San Diego Police Department is attempting to deal with two major community complaints: People don’t like to be made to sit on the curb while officers question them, nor do they like to be asked whether they’re on probation or parole.

This month, the department told officers to scale back their use of both tactics. Officers must have a specific reason to order subjects to sit on the curb and should only ask someone’s probation or parole status if they know that person’s criminal history or need to find out immediately. The department plans to make formal policy changes on both issues soon.

Minority community members have felt humiliated and singled out by each of these tactics, said Lei-Chala Wilson, head of the San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“You get stopped maybe for a traffic ticket and they take you out (of) your car, and they’re doing further investigation and they’re not sure what reason, but they’re sitting you on the curb,” Wilson said. “So everybody can see you sitting on the curb.”

Wilson and the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union started updating those policies with former Chief Bill Lansdowne in January. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the ACLU’s policy director, said Lansdowne told her he was shocked at how frequently officers were having people sit on the curb when he did a ride-along.

Dooley-Sammuli said she’s pleased with the Police Department's policy changes but wants to see how officers in the field react.

“Changing words on a paper have to be met with changing behavior,” she said. “That’s when we’ll really know.”

Next month, the department is scheduled to present to a City Council committee new racial data collection from traffic stops, a long-standing policy that had lapsed in recent years. Both the NAACP and ACLU recently asked council members to require the department to provide detailed information about the stops, including how many led to arrests, the race of those stopped and the precinct it happened in.

Corrected:
This story is part of an ongoing investigation by KPBS and Voice of San Diego.