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Public Safety

Mayor, Police Chief Revise SDPD Consent Search Policies To Make Rights Clear

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

Mayor Todd Gloria and Chief David Nisleit Friday announced changes to the San Diego Police Department's consent search procedures, which govern how officers can conduct a search of a person or property.

"We are modifying the police department's consent search procedures to be more clear, concise and just," Gloria said. "We want to make sure that our officers and the people they serve are protected while also ensuring individuals who are searched know their rights and have them respected. This is a key step to building more trust between our police department and the community."

Consent searches allow officers to search an individual's person, vehicle or home without a warrant, if the individual gives consent. Consent searches comprise around 10% of all searches conducted by SDPD, according to police department-provided data.

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Officials said that prior to the revisions, members of the public had indicated that when presented with the option of consent, they felt intimidated and confused, creating questions of how and when consent is requested by officers and granted.

Key highlights from the modifications to the consent search procedure include:

— obtaining consent for a search in verbal or written form and that it must be granted both freely and voluntarily;

— documenting verbal consent using body cameras and recording a clear request to search the premises, person, personal property or vehicle. If body cameras are not an available option, written consent shall be obtained;

— ensuring searches are not unduly intensive or intrusive so as to not unnecessarily harm the individual or destroy or damage the property or location during the search;

— maintaining the scope and reasonable duration of the search to not exceed what is granted by the individual; and

— notifying the person of the right to refuse, modify or withdraw consent to a search at any time, even after consent was given and the search has begun.

"Consent searches remain a valuable tool for officers to proactively address crime in our communities," Nisleit said. "This addition to Procedure 4.01 provides greater clarity on how consent searches are conducted, informs citizens of their rights, and still allows officers to employ this investigative technique to keep our neighborhoods safe."

The changes to consensual searches are part of Gloria's proposed reforms to police practices announced in April. To date, several of the proposed reforms have been implemented, including the elimination of gang injunctions, removing the Office of Homeland Security — now known as Office of Emergency Services — from the SDPD and funding the independent Commission on Police Practices.

SDPD procedures were also updated in 2019 to define tactical options for officers when detaining an individual, as well as language related to Assembly Bill 953 — the Racial and Identity Profiling Act — for how to collect data on all stops, detentions and searches.

All SDPD policies and procedures can be found online.