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Community Input Questioned As San Diego Searches For New Police Chief

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, left, looks on alongside San Diego ...

Photo by Associated Press

Above: San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, left, looks on alongside San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, right, during a news conference in San Diego, July 15, 2016.

Four community meetings will be held in San Diego to take public input on the selection of a new police chief, the city announced Tuesday, but critics say the process is not as inclusive as it should be.

Four community meetings will be held in San Diego to take public input on the selection of a new police chief, the city announced Tuesday, but critics say the process is not as inclusive as it should be.

San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is scheduled to step down in March of next year because of her participation in a deferred retirement program.

To find her replacement, city officials said they plan to select an executive recruitment firm early next month and choose panelists to conduct a series of interviews during the winter. The tentative timeline calls for the mayor to choose a new chief by the end of January, with the City Council holding a confirmation hearing in February.

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Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who was aware of Zimmerman’s status when he appointed her to lead the SDPD three years ago, touted the city’s efforts to involve San Diegans in the process.

"The police chief serves all of San Diego so we want everyone to have a chance to participate in the selection process," he said in a statement. "I am encouraging San Diegans to attend these community forums so the public's voice is heard."

A coalition of nine community groups, however, said the process lacked transparency because interview panelists would not be identified until after a selection was made.

“San Diegans deserve a public process, not closed-door interviews with a panel whose composition will not be revealed until after they decide who will be San Diego’s next police chief,” the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, a coalition member, said in a statement.

The organizations also claim the current process does not provide enough opportunities for all community members to weigh in.

“We continue to call for and support a 15-member panel appointed by community stakeholders and additional forums to be held in Districts 8 and 9, where we know communities of color have disproportionate contact with police,” the statement said.

City Spokeswoman Katie Keach said a city review of “different processes of high level public official recruitment” determined concealing panelists names would help “ensure a process less likely to be compromised by interviewer contact.” She also said the four forum locations were chosen in part because they were near public transit. Keach said for those who cannot attend the meetings, an online survey would also be available.

Daniela Barron, who sits on a youth council with the nonprofit Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, said the group proposed some of the coalition’s suggestions just prior to the city releasing its plan. She said she and representatives from other organizations met with city staff Tuesday morning to present the recommendations, which had been in the works since June, but that the city’s timeline was released during the meeting.

“When I walked out, I was in shock because, well as a youth council member, we took our time to create this and we knew that we were going to present it,” Barron said in a phone interview. “What they told us was they were going to take our input and use it towards their process and when we got there it was just like a slap in the face. They already had everything done.”

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Keach said the meeting was to inform the community groups about the city’s process and invite them to participate in the future.

Members of the coalition, which include Mid-City CAN, the ACLU, Alliance San Diego, CAST, San Diego LGBT Community Center, Center for Policy Initiatives, Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, San Diego La Raza Bar Association and San Diego Organizing Project, scheduled a 9:30 a.m. news conference in response to the city’s proposal.

Community forum schedule:

–Sept. 21, Standley Recreation Center, 3585 Governor Drive, 6 p.m.

–Sept. 23, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, 404 Euclid Ave, 1 p.m.

–Sept. 26, Mira Mesa Senior Center, 8460 Mira Mesa Blvd, 6 p.m.

–Sept. 28, St. Paul's Cathedral, 2728 Sixth Ave., 6 p.m.

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