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San Diego Clears Police Oversight Reform For November Ballot

San Diego police officers monitor protesters during a demonstration against police brutality, San Diego, June 1, 2020.
Mike Damron
San Diego police officers monitor protesters during a demonstration against police brutality, San Diego, June 1, 2020.

San Diego City Council members Tuesday unanimously approved a measure for the November ballot that would beef up civilian oversight of the city's police department.

The measure would dissolve the current Community Review Board on Police Practices and replace it with a commission with more authority and independence. The existing board can review internal police investigations into officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and complaints of officer misconduct, but it cannot do its own investigations.

The new commission, if approved by voters, would have the power to conduct independent probes and subpoena witnesses and evidence. It would also be able to refer cases or issues to the San Diego County Grand Jury, District Attorney or other government agencies for further investigation.

VIDEO: Council Passes Resolutions Moving Police Reform Closer To November Ballot

"The board members now work really really really hard, and I want to acknowledge that," said Councilmember Monica Montgomery, who was elected in 2018 on a platform of increasing police accountability. "It is also just a system that in and of itself needed a lot of work and a lot of reform to be independent."

The ballot measure would also mandate the new commission receive outside legal counsel rather than advice from the City Attorney's Office, which also advises and defends the police department.

Various attempts at reforming the Community Review Board on Police Practices have failed over the years after being either watered down or killed through procedural delays. One proposal came close to being placed on the November 2018 ballot, but died because the city had not initiated discussions over the measure with the union that represents San Diego police officers.

The council opted to initiate those labor negotiations, which are required by state law, last November. After an initial impasse, city officials struck a deal with the union last month — just days before the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police ignited protests across the country.

A vote by council members to officially put the measure on the ballot is scheduled for July 7. Councilmember Chris Ward said it is just the beginning of a new effort to reform the San Diego Police Department.

"We know that there's a long list of improvements that the city needs to do with criminal justice, but this one is critical to sustaining the momentum to move forward," Ward said. "We need to work on tactics, policies, budget, enforcement, surveillance — and I know that we have strong partners on those too."

San Diego Clears Police Oversight Reform For November Ballot
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.