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San Diego’s History With Community-Oriented Policing

Photo caption:

Photo by Nathan Rupert / Flickr

A San Diego Police Department vehicle, December 11, 2010.

San Diego's History With Community Policing


Leon Williams, former councilman, San Diego

Lyndsay Winkley, crime and courts reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune


With the murder of San Diego police Officer Jonathan De Guzman last week, the city confronts the question of relations between its officers and residents.

When Leon Williams became the first African-American member of the San Diego City Council in 1969, he championed the idea of community policing. Williams said he felt the city and its police department disrespected and excluded people of color.

The up-and-down history of community-oriented policing in San Diego began during William's tenure. The concept got a big boost in the late 1980s when the San Diego Police Department started encouraging officers to partner with community members to identify neighborhood problems that might cause crime later. In the late 1990s, crime reached new lows, and many touted the success of community policing.

But community policing is both resource-heavy and time-consuming, and soon the concept would be in trouble — in San Diego and across the nation.

In 2003, the city's pension crisis meant frozen salaries, which meant officers leaving in droves, which in turn meant scaling back community-resource officers in order to get basic police patrols covered.

The year 2014 was rife with serious misconduct allegations in the department, and police Chief William Lansdowne asked the U.S. Department of Justice to audit the department.

Many of the Justice Department's recommendations focused on how the police department could forge better community relationships. When police Chief Shelley Zimmerman took over that same year, she made community policing a priority for every officer.

Today, there is no national consensus that community policing deters crime. But the police department believes it goes a long way to foster trust and respect.

Leon Williams and Lyndsay Winkley, a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, discuss the history of community policing in San Diego on Midday Edition on Wednesday.


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