Police Reform In San Diego A Year After George Floyd’s Death
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Photo by Julia Dixon Evans
One year ago today, George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Bystanders caught the murder on video and the world was able to see how Chauvin placed and held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds.
The result was a global movement as people from all backgrounds took to the streets to call for greater racial justice and demand that communities reimagine policing.
San Diego was no exception.
Thousands of San Diegans marched in protests and rallies across the county, including one in La Mesa five days after Floyd’s death that led to the theft and destruction of property after a video of a La Mesa police officer using excessive force against Amaurie Johnson and arresting him under alleged false pretenses became public.
Although there was no single policy that united all the protesters, the message was clear that many San Diegans felt that some type of police reform was necessary.
So where are we one year later?
The San Diego Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, and other county police departments reacted almost immediately to the growing cries for police reform. In early June, departments banned the use of controversial carotid restraints, which is when police subdue a person by applying pressure to the sides of their neck.
Later that month, the SDPD went further and changed its policy to make de-escalation a requirement instead of a recommendation. It also established specific rules regarding how police officers must intervene if their fellow officers were using excessive force.
Community Activists Outline Policy Priorities
Many community activists saw these reforms as only the beginning of the changes they wanted to see. The Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency, an alliance of different community groups including the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Think Dignity, released a package of proposed reforms in early July. They included: reducing the police budget, decriminalizing low-level offenses and creating an independent police oversight board.
Shortly after, the San Diego City Council unanimously voted to put a measure on the November ballot calling for an independent commission that would be able to conduct independent investigations into police misconduct and have subpoena power.
Commission on Police Practices
That ballot item, Measure B, overwhelmingly passed with nearly 75% of the vote. Yet, the commission still has yet to officially begin its work. On April 26th, the City Council voted to make Sharmaine Moseley, who led the city’s previous community review board, as the interim executive director of the new Commission on Police Practices.
Councilmembers have pushed back against criticism that they’ve been too slow in getting the commission up and running.
“No one is dragging here,” said Councilmember Monica Montgomery-Steppe, a longtime champion of the commission. “We really are changing the entire spectrum of accountability with this charter change.”
According to Doug Case, the nascent commission’s interim vice chair, the work to establish an independent body capable of conducting investigation is ongoing with a tentative timeline of early 2022.
Until then, the city has an interim commission made up of former commissioners from the now defunct Community Review Board on Police Practices. The interim commission members do not have the capacity to conduct independent investigations, but they can review cases, make recommendations and will continue to provide reports.
Andrea St. Julian, one of the original authors of Measure B and founder of San Diegans For Justice, is worried that the holdover commissioners are slow-walking the process.
“There are a lot of these holdover commissioners who want to run the commission just in the same way as they ran the old board,” St. Julian said. “They don't want to make change and they're trying to put in policies and procedures that are going to keep the commission from moving forward.”
Still, St. Julian remains hopeful. “I still feel very good about what we have done, but we still need to remain vigilant,” she said.
San Diego Police Budget
Among the loudest calls during last summer’s protests were those to cut the police budget and redirect funds to public health initiatives. But Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed police budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, actually increases spending on police by around $19 million for a total annual budget of almost $600 million.
In comparison, the Commission on Police Practices was allotted about $1.5 million.
Advocates point to the cities of San Francisco and Seattle, which have made significant cuts to their police budgets and redirected funds to community programs.
Gloria did cut back on police overtime in this budget, but said pensions and other costs that were negotiated in previous years gave him little choice. Community members have called in to budget review meetings in protest of these increases.
“To talk about the harm done by police on the one hand and then to increase their budget is disingenuous,” admonished Emily Drake during a May meeting. The Council’s final recommended modifications to the budget are due to the independent budget analyst on May 26, 2021.
Gloria’s Proposed Police Reforms
Last month, Gloria released a series of proposed public safety and police reforms. Of his 11 policy priorities some, such as the removal of gang injunctions and funding the Commission on Police Practices, have already been accomplished. But others, like exploring how to limit pretextual stops, may prove more difficult.
Pretextual stops are when a police officer pulls someone over for a minor infraction in order to further question or search that individual for a more serious offense. According to a 2019 Campaign Zero report, San Diego police were 44% more likely to search Latinx people and 133% more likely to search Black people than white people after pulling them over for a traffic violation.
The Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency and other community groups have urged the city to adopt PrOTECT, a community-generated ordinance that would end consent searches and pretextual stops in San Diego.
Thus far, Gloria has said that he’s open to exploring policy options that would limit their practice and expects “robust dialogue” around the issue of even defining what constitutes a pretextual stop.
Click here for more on Gloria’s Public Safety and Proposed Police Reforms.
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