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San Diego Councilwoman Determined To Put More Teeth In Civilian Police Oversight

San Diego City Council member Monica Montgomery speaks in an interview with K...

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: San Diego City Council member Monica Montgomery speaks in an interview with KPBS, Oct. 3, 2019.

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Monica Montgomery is determined to avoid a repeat of the council's failure last year to place a measure on the ballot to strengthen civilian oversight of police officers.

Aired: October 10, 2019 | Transcript

For years, a volunteer activist group called Women Occupy San Diego has been pushing for a new way of allowing civilians to oversee the San Diego Police Department. The group wants to dissolve the existing Community Review Board on Police Practices and replace it with a new board that would have the power to conduct its own investigations into alleged officer misconduct separate from SDPD Internal Affairs.

The proposal fizzled out last year because the city did not start talks on the measure with the San Diego Police Officers Association, the union that represents officers, which is required by state labor law.

But the proposal got new momentum just months later with the election of Monica Montgomery to the City Council. Montgomery campaigned on improving police oversight, and was given authority to lead that debate when she was made chair of the council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

KPBS spoke with Montgomery on how she plans to ensure the proposal finally makes it to city voters.

Reported by Andrew Bowen , Video by Roland Lizarondo

Q: Last year we saw this idea of a new independent police review commission die before it ever got a vote at the City Council on whether to place it on the ballot. What's the status of your idea now and how are you going to ensure that that doesn't happen again?

A: So we have seen and have been monitoring the Women Occupy ballot measure proposal, and it came to committee, our last committee meeting, which I believe was September 18th. So at that committee, it passed through unanimously but it is coming back to committee with a legal analysis from the city attorney. And it was really important for me coming into office that we don't get caught in the procedural loopholes of this — that my colleagues are able to judge the proposal based on the merits of it and make a decision from there.

Q: Supporters of this measure say that it's really about the process. They want a more independent process. But there are also some out there who are unhappy with the current outcomes of the current Community Review Board. For you, what is most important to you? And do you think that this new model with an independent investigation will actually lead to different outcomes?

A: I think it will. There were four major things that I was dedicated to since inauguration day based on civilian oversight of the police department, and those are the investigative powers, subpoena power, independent commission and independent counsel. And this proposal has all of those factors in it. And so I think that we've been working really hard to ensure that it is an effective commission, in word and in deed, and so that's what that all the going back and forth is about. But I believe it will be effective and it'll be sort of like a hybrid model where there be there will be some review mechanisms there. But the investigative powers are most important.

Q: I spoke with the head of the Police Officers Association last year, the last time around. And something that he told me was that he felt like no matter how robust or independent a civilian review board is overseeing the police, that there are always going to be some people in the community that simply don't trust the police. What's your response to that?

A: First of all it's no excuse for us not to do better. We have to do better. There will always be folks, just as you mentioned, folks that maybe want me to go a little bit further or don't want me to do this. I'm doing what I believe is right. I think the police officers should do what they believe is right. I think that every entity should have a check and a balance. That is what this is about. There will always be folks, either based on their own personal experience with officers or other influence, that do not trust police officers. That probably will never change. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have strong oversight over any entity, including the police department.

Q: This is an issue that you ran on during your campaign, possibly something that actually helped you get elected in your district. But now that we're seeing the real policy-making happen, some of the details, some of the people who originally supported you are actually kind of pushing you to go further than you might otherwise do. What has that been like for you?

A: It's politics. It's government. I'm dedicated to a good policy. The four factors are what I ran on: subpoena power — which, that was the only thing at issue when I ran. Really all of the rest of this was ... something that we've developed along over time. But the independent commission, independent counsel, investigative powers and subpoena power are all wrapped up into the policy that I support. So in my view, I'm doing what I said I would do. For those who are not supporting or wanting it to go further, they have that right and I understand why. But I'm doing what I believe is right for the city.

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