Shelley Zimmerman Works Last Day As San Diego Police Chief
Shelley Zimmerman will walk out of San Diego's downtown police headquarters for the final time Thursday — in an official capacity, anyway — almost four years to the day after she became the first female police chief in the city's history.
Zimmerman, 58, was chosen to lead the San Diego Police Department by then-Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer in February 2014 and unanimously approved by the City Council on March 4 of the same year. After the Council hearing, she was sworn in by Faulconer, taking over as top cop following the retirement of William Landsdowne, who stepped away after more than 10 years as chief among a growing scandal involving sexual misconduct allegations against his officers.
One of Zimmerman's first actions as chief, less than a month after she took the job, was to invite the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an independent assessment of the SDPD aimed at helping restore the public's trust in the agency.
That probe, which largely looked at incidents that happened while Zimmerman was not yet chief, found gaps in agency policies on officer misconduct, a lack of consistent supervision and a failure to hold employees accountable.
When Zimmerman leaves her job Thursday, the Ohio native will end her 35-year SDPD career that began after she moved to San Diego in 1981 without a job, a place to stay or a single person she knew. Zimmerman's replacement is David Nisleit, who like her worked more than three decades for the SDPD before he was nominated last month by Faulconer.
Nisleit was unanimously confirmed by the Council on Monday and sworn in as police chief Tuesday.
Zimmerman's tenure as top cop was always destined to be short. When she was tapped for the job, the then-54-year-old assistant chief had already served 31 years with the department and had enrolled the year prior in a deferred retirement plan, leaving her then with just four years of city employment remaining.
Faulconer said at the time he knew of the four-year constraint but picked Zimmerman anyway because the department needed immediate leadership in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations.
But the longer-term challenge at the time, and for much of Zimmerman's tenure, was the chronic underfunding of the department and attrition that had depleted its ranks over the years, pushed experienced officers to leave for better-paying jobs and fueled morale problems among the rank-and-file.
In 2015, a solution appeared to be in the cards when the City Council approved a five-year contract with the San Diego Police Officers Association that included 3.3 percent raises in each of the deal's final two years. But in 2016, Zimmerman announced that a dozen officers per month were still leaving the agency, even more than before the new contract was approved.
Late last year — with the department facing a deficit of roughly 250 officers compared to the budgeted allotment of more than 2,000 — the city and the police union negotiated a new deal that would raise pay by up to 30.6 percent for some veteran employees. That deal was approved in December, raising pay for San Diego cops from near the bottom of law enforcement agency pay in the region and the state, to well-above average.
"Dozens of our police officers who were going to leave our police department our now staying," Zimmerman told the City Council in December. "Others that have recently left our police department are now inquiring about coming back to the San Diego Police Department. Just recently, we had more applicants take our physical abilities test in any one day than we have had in nearly three years."
Zimmerman called the contract a "game-changer." Previously she'd said "no department has been able to accomplish so much for so long with so few resources."
Earlier in Zimmerman's term, in 2016, the City Council approved a 15 percent pay raise for SDPD dispatchers.
During her tenure, Zimmerman dealt with many of the same problems that have plagued big cities across the country the past four years, including allegations of racial profiling by her officers, accusations of officers too often using lethal force and demands for more police accountability.
More specifically, the SDPD also faced questions during Zimmerman's tenure over delays in 911 response times. In addition to the pay raises for dispatchers, Zimmerman also made big changes in dispatcher management and changed employee schedules, helping to drastically lower the time it took for dispatchers to answer emergency calls.
Among the most noteworthy incidents during Zimmerman's tenure are the following:
–Introduction in 2014 of police body cameras.
–Arrests and eventual convictions of married SDPD officers Jennifer and Bryce Charpentier.
–The "friendly fire" shooting of Officer Heather Seddon, who was struck in the neck by a bullet fired from a colleague during an exchange of gunfire with a fleeing suspect. Seddon recovered from the injury and eventually returned to work.
–A 5 1/2 hour standoff with a suspect in the Bankers Hill neighborhood after the man allegedly opened fire on SDPD officers.
–A four-day spree of violence that targeted homeless men in various San Diego neighborhoods and left two homeless men dead and critically injured two others.
–The shooting in July 2016 that killed gang unit Officer Jonathan "J.D." DeGuzman and injured Officer Wade Irwin.
–The mass shooting last May at a University City apartment complex that killed one woman and injured six. The incident ended when police killed the suspect in a shootout.