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San Diego County Grand Jury Recommends Improvements To Police Review Board

The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

Credit: Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

A San Diego County Grand Jury report released Monday offers several recommendations to improve the city of San Diego's Community Review Board on Police Practices, which evaluates public complaints about local police officers.

The 23-seat board was created in 1989 via a ballot initiative to review complaints and offer policy and procedure recommendations. It cannot mandate action.

The grand jury's report was spurred by a citizen complaint that the board is understaffed and unable to exhibit proper oversight of the San Diego Police Department. Overall, the grand jury did find that many "do not consider the CRB as currently constituted to be independent from SDPD and do not believe the CRB reports reach fair and unbiased conclusions."

The Grand Jury recommends that the San Diego Mayor and City Council consider:

— Taking steps to bring forward the rules and regulations necessary to implement Measure G for approval within three months. The rules and regulations should provide solutions to the following deficiencies:

— a. The need for the CRB to have the ability and authority to track all complaints.

— b. The inability of the CRB and the SDPD IA to jointly categorize all complaints.

— c. The inability of the CRB to review all SDPD IA investigations of complaints whether the complaints were submitted to the SDPD or to the CRB.

— d. The need to clarify if the CRB has the authority to determine who may attend closed sessions other than the members of the board.

— e. The lack of required CRB periodic reports on all cases, or at least a summary of all cases, for review to the Mayor and City Council.

— Consider proposing an amendment to the City Charter to give the CRB Subpoena power, the authority to perform independent investigations of citizen complaints, independent investigators, and the authority to report directly to the Mayor and City Council.

— Taking action to begin filling CRB Appointed Member and Prospective Member vacancies immediately.

City officials have 90 days to comment on the grand jury report. City spokeswoman Alma Rife said they won't address findings before then.

Currently, the board is only referred cases already investigated by SDPD Internal Affairs, which doesn't investigate all officer-related complaints made by the public. Not receiving all complaints made to the department hinders the board's oversight role, the grand jury found.

"The CRB does not participate in the categorization of complaints submitted to the SDPD. Consequently, the CRB cannot be certain that it sees all complaints that may be relevant to its advisory responsibilities, and cannot determine whether any have been misclassified," the report says.

The grand jury also found that city staff have failed to implement Measure G, a 2016 voter-approved initiative that requires the board to review all in-custody deaths and officer-related shootings.

The grand jury recommended city staff implement Measure G within three months and allow the board to track all SDPD complaints.

The panel also advocated for the board to receive additional complaint evaluation tools.

Currently, the board only reviews completed SDPD investigations of complaints against the department. The grand jury asked city staff to consider providing the board subpoena power to complete its own investigations in order to create greater independence from SDPD conclusions.

Women Occupy San Diego advocated for similar recommendations during a ballot initiative proposal to the San Diego City Council's Rules Committee in April.

The grand jury report additionally called for the appointment of more board members.

City officials who oversee the board decided, following a 2016 code amendment, that additional legislation is required to establish the authority to appoint to the board, which has 15 members. No appointments have been made since December 2016, according to the grand jury, which found there's no legal basis for halting appointments and that more board members are needed.

"This reduced membership has negatively impacted its operation. Limited membership reduces the number of members available to conduct reviews of police investigations of citizens' complaints and makes it more difficult for the CRB to muster the 10 members needed to vote for approval or disapproval of a case review as required by the bylaws," the report said.

In another section of its report, the grand jury recommended the board have formal authority to exclude SDPD personnel from closed-session complaint reviews. Officers often attend sessions to answer questions, and typically leave when asked, but they do so "without fully acknowledging that the CRB has the right to exclude SDPD personnel from its closed sessions."

"The presence of SDPD officers during closed CRB deliberations compromises the CRB's independence and has intimidated some of its members," the report said.

Finally, the report recommended that the board consult with the mayor's office and City Council on findings more regularly in order to comply with city code.

The grand jury found board members typically discuss complaint reviews with SDPD personnel, while only referring to city staff when a compromise over policy recommendations cannot be reached.

"The CRB does not adequately fulfill its responsibility to advise the mayor and the City Council under the current reporting practices," the report said.

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