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KPBS Midday Edition

El Cajon’s New Police Chief On Working In A Diverse City

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El Cajon Gets New Police Chief
El Cajon Gets New Police Chief GUEST: Jeff Davis, chief, El Cajon Police Department

This is KPBS midday edition. I Maureen Cavanaugh. Jeff Davis is the city of El Cajon's newly installed police chief. San Diego County's fifth-largest city has seen crime rates fall in the last few years just like most other cities in the county. And that rate has dropped even as El Cajon's demographics have undergrad -- undergone a study change. Going to census data 30% of the population is foreign-born and more than 42% of households speak a language other than English at home. El Cajon is now the main destination for refugees resettled in our county. Joining me now is a Cohen police chief Jeff Davis and chief Davis welcome to the program. Good afternoon. You are just sworn in as chief earlier this month that you've been with the Oklahoma Police Department for nearly -- El Cajon Police Department for nearly 30 years. How does that longevity in the department help you in your job? It gives me an appreciation for each County in addition to being with the police department over 30 years on the east County resident and local San Diego as well. I think that helps me understand the diversity that El Cajon is experiencing right now and it definitely gives me a huge stake in my job. Being born and raised in [ Indiscernible ] county. San Diego is a diverse community in and of itself. But now obviously is becoming police chief and that has more than impact on my life. And seeing this evolve over the last 30 years has been part of my education, community education in becoming a police chief. How have you seen the department change over the last 30 years? That's a great question. I really think we've evolved and I had an opportunity last week to speak to all of our sworn staff twice a year we hold a department training were we get a chance to sit in front of every single officer at all ranks in a department training aspect and being the new chief that's a great opportunity because I had an opportunity to express to them my vision of the department, where we are going, and of course involves our global community which is who we are policing now. We speak about evolving as the Police Department and we'd evolved to the 21st century Police Department and our training and our attitude towards community involvement and it's more prevalent now than ever before. It's interesting time to be police chief. B Mac from a plug -- From a public safety standpoint what are the most pressing issues? You hit on it a little bit but the change of demographics. If you come to East County you come to understand that we have a large Iraqi population now and whether they have immigrated or have come over as refugees, fleeing persecution or terrorism from their home country is important for a Police Department to understand that we are policing a global community. And the impact on the officers, they have to understand that if you come from another country you're going to have a cultural difference and you have to have a link which barrier -- and you may have a language barrier and the police from those countries may not be viewed as public service and public safety as here. Right now our biggest challenge is reaching out to the Iraq he community and the folks who have just immigrated and let them know we are here to help. And that you would think would be easy and it's not because we're finding out and one solution -- were finding out it's not an one solution came from the community and they said the reality is we don't need to teach us so much about safety things that you teach in the regular community but teaches the basics role of police, teach us about, say for example how to cross the street to go what are those like that link and if you are from a country that does not have that that's important and we take it for granted. In that light they ask that we create some [ Indiscernible ] that they can use to show folks and refugees and immigration to the US to our community and we created a public service video that explains public safety and what the police department does and what the fire department is, what our role is how to contact us and when to contact us and things many of us take for granted. We made two versions of that one in English and then we made one in Arabic. And the idea is to reach out and to make that first attempt contact and let them know that if they need services of these types please contact us and that is what we are here for. I'm speaking with the new El Cajon police chief Jeff Davis and chief Davis, as you know San Diego Police Department has faced criticism over accusations of racial profiling and traffic stops. And harassment in black and Latino communities. There has been a lot of discussions over the past year between the community and the police department about that. How does El Cajon handle those issues? It's interesting that you bring those are. I mentioned the department training that we had been one of the topics we discussed, this was a conversation that I had with our officers, I reminded them that our authority as police, doesn't come from the badge or the state, it doesn't come from the uniform but it are authority to do our job comes from the community. And we are part of the community. And that's part of the engagement. The trust factor has to be there and it could be as simple as having a conversation with the officers and amongst themselves. One of the examples we used is when you're dealing with the community, but face it, societal issues that we are experiencing across the country. Mental health issues, homeless issues, and now we have to add of course domestic terrorism and homegrown violent extremist. So imagine the complexity of this job that is law enforcement now. And in this conversation we brought up the fact that whether you are dealing with a homeless person who might be camping on your front yard and you called the police to deal with them or you are dealing with somebody in an upper-class neighborhood, you treat them the same. They are part of our community and they are human beings and deserve that. Sued the answer to your question is it really does start with a conversation, what our attitude should be, and that everybody is part of the community and should be treated equally. We've been talking about, and you've mentioned the diversity that is now that El Cajon population and how diverse is that El Cajon police force? Now we unfortunately only have two Iraqi officers and we use them a lot. We do have some Middle Eastern staff members and quite frankly we could use more because they get used for translation purposes, daily. We have reached out to the community through the churches and through the schools and that's an ongoing effort. And that is one of our goals to continue that effort. I believe that your department should be made up of the representation of the community and to be quite frank with you, it would help the Police Department and actually make it easier for us to engage the community and understand those cultural differences. Chief Davis, last December the El Cajon city Council authorized research into body cameras for the police department you support them? I do 100%. In fact the Council gave us direction to move forward with that. We are currently testing and evaluating some of the hardware and how we would actually store the information and we are trying to work with the officers to find out what the best product is. I was looking back at the news articles were in last December and it was hoped that those body cams could be purchased and put into sometime during the 2015 year. Why has it taken so long? The hardware, we want to make the purchase correct the first time. There's a lot of ants for structure that goes into supporting the system. And to be honest with you we are becoming educated as we look at this. And the more we are learning the more we realize we better do this right the first time. Of course this is taxpayer money that will pay for this and we want to be accountable and do this properly. We are going to implement body cams but we are going to do it right. And San Diego's police chief has come under some criticism and scrutiny recently for not releasing police body cam video related to an officer involved shooting. And in fact her policy of deciding on a case-by-case basis whether or not to release that video has also been criticized in the event of an officer involved in counter in El Cajon when the body cams are in place would you make that video public and have you gone to the point where you are thinking about standards for making videos public? Of course we are thinking about it and no have not decided but I will tell you this, I support chief Zimmerman's philosophy on this. I think when I say we are looking at the infrastructure and support that's all part of that package. And fortunately we are looking at all aspects, and I mentioned the hardware and in addition to the hardware there's a lot that goes into this. That's why we are taking our time. Before we actually implement this program. Again other than the cameras themselves and I say we want to do this right the first time, it's going to include policy as well. So that policy has not been decided yet to Mark No not yet. Said chief Davis the El Cajon city Council is scheduled next month to consider an ordinance that bans marijuana dispensaries. What has been the impact of having medical marijuana shops in the community? Of course, I'm not speaking for the Council but speaking from the law enforcement aspect. We have seen, our fair share of illegal dispensaries popping up. It's becoming prolific because it's so easy to establish for instance these mobile marijuana dispensaries. And it's very easy and anybody with a cell phone basically can develop these apps and we have to chase them down. Right now we respond to them based on community complaints. So the members of the public are complaining when a shop opens up and we will of course look into it and investigate. Do think they should be banned from the city? I think that something you should ask the city Council. All right. And that of course is the possibility that the recreational marijuana may be voted, by the citizens of California and they may vote that way next year on an ordinance to allow the use of recreational marijuana and is the city of El Cajon in need of having the kind of rules and regulations about marijuana dispensaries that the city of San Diego recently came up with, the zoning regulations for the use of medical marijuana dispensaries? Again you are asking me to speak on behalf of the Council and I can speak on behalf of the Police Department and law enforcement issues but again I think that's probably you would want to address with the Council. Let me go back to what we have talked about when it comes to the diversity in the number of Middle Eastern and Iraqi people that now call El Cajon their home. We've heard about a backlash against Muslims and the refugee community in light of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, to your knowledge is that happening at all in El Cajon? It has and you bring up an interesting fact and we do have two mosques in El Cajon in part of our engagement program with the Police Department is to reach out so if they feel like they are being threatened they may not come to us. I see it as our response will be to go to them to ask them that very question that you just asked and we have in fact, our officers have gone out to the mosques just to check in with them and let them know we are available and to ask if they've had any issues. And we have not received any complaints from them. As you are aware, the national debate over the safety concerns of the US accepting Syrian refugees has been in the news lately and as planned San Diego is now in line to accept several hundred of the refugees coming to the US and they may very well be resettled in El Cajon. Said chief Davis are you planning any extra security measures for that refugee community to Mark And again I won't comment on national policy but as it relates to our community, engagement is key. The more we speak with our community, the more engaged we are with our community think of something suspicious came up we would hear from our community. And we really rely on that. If you see something, say something. It's really incumbent on us in public safety to get that mission -- message out and I trust our community and if something came up they would let us know. Are you concerned perhaps for the safety of the refugees themselves? As in all members of our community, that's part of our role. Is public safety so if we hear of anything obviously we will look into it. It all goes back to what I mentioned earlier, it's part of that engagement and I want the community to feel comfortable reaching out to us if there are issues. Want that trust between our officers in the community. And finally, what is is that you enjoyed -- enjoyed about being a law enforcement officer? Being involved. Were having this conversation right now about the most prevalent issue in law enforcement right now is keeping that trust with the community. And if your people -- you are a people person you'll probably succeed in this job and that's really what has kept me going. Being engaged with the community, as I mentioned before I'm from East County, born and raised in probably will never leave. I appreciate you spending some time with us. I've been speaking with El Cajon police chief Jeff Davis and thank you so much. Think you for the opportunity. -- Thank you for the opportunity. [ Music ] Still had real people emerge from the statistics in a new book on HIV in Tijuana. That is KPBS midday edition continues.

Jeff Davis became El Cajon’s police chief this month, and is grappling with serving a diverse community.

Davis, who replaced former chief Jim Redman who retired, has been with the department since 1986. An East County native, Davis graduated from El Capitan High and earned a bachelor's degree in business management from San Diego Christian College.

San Diego County's fifth largest city has seen crime rates fall by 15 percent since 2011, according to the San Diego Association of Governments. The city is home to roughly 102,000 residents.

El Cajon's demographics have undergone a steady change. According to census data, 30 percent of the city's population is foreign born and more than 42 percent of households speak a language other than English at home.

El Cajon is now the main destination for refugees being resettled in our county.

Davis said catering to the city’s diverse community can be a challenge.

“It’s important for the Police Department to understand we are policing a global community,” Davis told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. “They have to understand if you come from another country, you’re going to have a language barrier.”

Davis said one of the challenges is that law enforcement officers are viewed differently in different countries. He said he’s been working to inform the new residents that the department is there to help.

“You would think that would be easy but it’s not as easy as we thought,” said Davis, citing language and cultural barriers.

Davis said his department currently has two Iraqi officers who are used daily for translation purposes. He said they’re working on increasing their outreach efforts to recruit a more diverse force.

“Your department should be made up of a representation of the community,” Davis said. “It would make it easier for us to understand the cultural differences.”

“It’s an interesting time to be a police chief.”