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Mayor's Selection For Next SDPD Chief Says Public Should Expect Transparency

San Diego homicide Capt. David Nisleit talks about the search for a man believed responsible for two murders and two assaults of homeless citizens, July 6, 2016.
Associated Press
San Diego homicide Capt. David Nisleit talks about the search for a man believed responsible for two murders and two assaults of homeless citizens, July 6, 2016.

San Diego Police Department’s Assistant Chief David Nisleit has been tapped to be the agency’s next leader, pending a City Council confirmation vote planned for Feb. 26. A public meeting on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 12.

KPBS sat down with the veteran cop to find out how he will tackle one of the department’s most pressing issues: its relationship with the community.

Mayor's Selection For Next SDPD Chief Says Public Should Expect Transparency

Q: You’re going to be replacing Shelley Zimmerman, if confirmed. How do you plan on distinguishing yourself from her as chief?


A: Well, the big thing right now: you look at our department, it’s not broken. And so just to kind of expand and continue that path that we’re doing, just really focusing on community policing — obviously priority one. We’re over 200 officers short right now, so the big deal will be getting out in the community and recruiting the very best and brightest, but I really want to focus on our community.

Q: You brought up community policing, which I refer to as proactive policing by establishing relationships with residents. But day-to-day, on the ground, what does that actually look like?

A: It starts by getting out of your car. As we continue to build this department, that will allow us the time to get out there, and so I’m going to ask officers to schedule time in their day and actually journalize it. Even if it’s 10, 15 minutes at a time, pick a couple blocks in the business district or a residential area and just walk around and say hello and introduce yourself and actually ask, "Do you feel safe? Is there anything that we as a San Diego Police Department can do for you?"

Q: We can check in with you on those specific points and will you be willing to share any documentation that it is actually going on?

A: Please do.

The department's "new era of excellence" comes after one in which the department grappled with concerns over officer misconduct, racial profiling and the recruitment process itself.

Q: A study released in 2016 of police data from vehicle stops found Hispanic and black drivers were searched more often than whites. Chief Zimmerman has responded that everyone has bias and said that the department has training to address that. But what actions will you take in response to the report?

A: A lot of it is training. It’s the implicit bias, the nonbiased policing and procedural justice. You got to remember [numbers cited in the report] are dating back to 2014 and 2015. So come July 1, we have the Assembly Bill 953 coming forward that we will be in full compliance with. I’m actually welcoming the scrutiny. I want to look at all the variables, and with AB 953 there’s going to be more variables to really tell the story, to kind of take a deeper dive into this issue. I’m going to look at this on a monthly basis. We’re going to report this out. I’ll obviously have to do this also with the Department of Justice annually, but this is something that I will roll out and tell our own story and post that on a web page, so full transparency. I really want to talk about accountability and transparency. When you take a look into all of those variables, I’m thinking a lot of this will be fleshed out, and if it’s not, we’ll fix it.

CPAT's Principles for Improved Policing
The Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency, made up of community and legal groups, referenced the 12-point document in an open letter to the new San Diego Police Department chief.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

Q: Throughout the new police chief selection process, which I understand you didn’t have anything to do with how that went, but a number of community and legal groups were concerned with the lack of transparency. They recently issued an open letter to you that included a list of the coalition’s “principles for improved policing.” What actions are you planning to take in response to what they are asking?

A: There’s, I believe, a meeting on (Feb.) 12th that’s going to be a community forum. I’m looking forward to sitting down with all of these folks about this and hashing all of this stuff out. A lot of their requests we already do. Some of the things like they want to understand our training on de-escalation. I’ll share the learning domains that are used in the academy, that are used in our advanced officer training and used during our critical response team training that all officers get. I’m going to be very transparent about this, so we’ll go through these. I’d like to meet with all those folks and go through from point one to point 12, and we’ll talk them all out. You're going to see somebody in me that's going to be very transparent. I'm going to listen to the community, and if they've got a great idea and it works, I'm going to implement it.

Mayor's Selection For Next SDPD Chief Says Public Should Expect Transparency
Assistant Chief David Nisleit answers questions about community policing, a 2016 report on racial profiling by police and a coalition's public call for specific changes at SDPD.

Corrected: February 29, 2024 at 7:33 PM PST
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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