Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego's History With Community-Oriented Policing

San Diego's History With Community-Oriented Policing
San Diego's History With Community PolicingGUESTS:Leon Williams, former councilman, San Diego Lyndsay Winkley, crime and courts reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Send it was one of the first thing is to adopt the concept of community policing but a bad economy and declining crime rate cause the city to change focus over the years. With a tragic death of an officer they are advocating a full-fledged return. Joining me is Leon Williams. He is among other things the first black member of the San Diego city Council in early advocate of community policing. Welcome to the program. Thank you. IReporter Lyndsay Winkley is also here see role anything for the Union-Tribune in 2015. Welcome. Thank you very much. My first lesson is to you, Lyndsay, what is accepted definition of committee base policing? At its core it is about communities and law enforcement agencies coming together to identify and solve problems. It is a lot more prevention-based then reaction based. There are -- community policing is a broad term. There are other pillars of policing. I think initially the sending a Police Department really embraced was problem oriented policing. It really was about finding a very specific issue in the community that was happening away at life and getting together sitting at the table and figuring out how to fix it. It was resource heavy, time-consuming, but it worked. Leon Williams, you were an early advocate of community-oriented policing when you go on the Senegal city Council in 1969. What was policing like back then? Well, there was a lot more athletic divisions nowadays the now. The police were perceived by members of the minority communities pretty much as kind of like occupiers and the police themselves work disassociated with the community. They kind of acted more like just driving around and doing things. My push was for them to become part of the community and to get out of the car, talk to people, and find out what was happening and be part of the community more than just being seen as occupiers. Could you see things change and communities in San Diego? Yes, I was aware of change in the attitude of many of the people felt that the police as suppressors were thing that from the business people like store owners and other businesses there were more sympathetic to police and the police activities after we started that program. The only thing I think is that now we are not doing enough. The police seeing too much as separate from control rather than being part of and being leaders and improving conditions in the communities. Lyndsay, as you will in the salon piece in the Union-Tribune, you talked about the ways that policing sort of went off the radar in San Diego. What were the reasons for that? It is a competent question. There are a lot of things that contributed to that decline. The first one that the department will mention is the staffing crisis. Lansdowne was feeling the staffing crisis even earlier than it was being called a crisis. He said that he kind of saw the writing on the wall in 2012 by by 2006 you had really seen an exodus of officers leaving departments that were maybe offering better benefits at the time. The job was actually a lot more stressful to because as you were having people retiring and not being replaced, you still have the same amount of calls and things to do so the officers that were there their days were more filled with calls that amended response. That had a chilling effect on the community. They were not getting out of the cars anymore. Not because they did not want to, but because they did not have time. They were not sitting down at the table and tackling projects. It took months and months because they didn't have that capability. A lot of resource officers were laid off. That was a civilian police job. So you really had kind of this perfect storm to create an environment where community-oriented policing was that the priority partly because it couldn't be. Also when you have a department that is understaffed and you are looking to promote, you will be taking into consideration the things that those officers needed to in order to keep the department functioning. I've spoken with a number of people with the Department who would say that it wasn't so much a community oriented policing do not matter or was not taking into consideration when they were looking to you officers, but being able to manage resources and control thing though certain things with staffing was low was more important. And then came the audit? It recommended that San Diego resume its community-oriented policing. I think that it should be maybe some discussion as to all those things were really compelling in terms of not doing community-oriented policing. That could be the basic model rather than assuming that that is something extra you do on top of something. You make that -- that should be basic then you would not have that problem extra to have to do to do it. So where are we now, Lyndsay As you mentioned there was the audit and I think that was a pretty serious wake-up call it was something to have an executive edges is that studies police agencies to come in and say you need to get better so the department committed itself to doing so. Zimmerman has always been an advocate of community policing when she was put in place she made it whatever number one priorities, if not her number one priority to get back to policing . They are initiatives that the department has instated since then. An effort to kind of get back to those roots. To address what you and said. I think that was a fair point that community-oriented policing should be integrated into the policing model. I think that when there's -- there staff downsize so quickly they realize that they could of better integrated it into their role. They needed to make sure that every officer was doing those little community-oriented policing actions throughout their day because maybe you don't have a community resource officer who will be able to do it one a. Lets in this discussion I we can go on for quite some time. There is a loss of trust between the police and communities in San Diego. How do you see San Diego can rebuild that trust? I think just getting involved. The police are part of the community. The committee wants orders. They what order they don't want the -- to be abuser have criminals running free and doing stuff. Nobody wants that. I think it is a matter of just working out together and solving those kind of problems rather than being occupiers. Police in occupiers, they are police officers. They may need to be in a place and then a condition in a mood of keeping the peace by keeping people who don't want other people from doing that. Creating peaceful feelings on the part of the community. Backed seems to me what it is. I've been speaking with Leon Williams and Lyndsay Winkley. Thank you so much. Thank you for having us. Thank you. That coming up we'll hear about a special summer camp that helps to heal. You are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.

With the murder of San Diego police Officer Jonathan De Guzman last week, the city confronts the question of relations between its officers and residents.

Advertisement

When Leon Williams became the first African-American member of the San Diego City Council in 1969, he championed the idea of community policing. Williams said he felt the city and its police department disrespected and excluded people of color.

The up-and-down history of community-oriented policing in San Diego began during William's tenure. The concept got a big boost in the late 1980s when the San Diego Police Department started encouraging officers to partner with community members to identify neighborhood problems that might cause crime later. In the late 1990s, crime reached new lows, and many touted the success of community policing.

But community policing is both resource-heavy and time-consuming, and soon the concept would be in trouble — in San Diego and across the nation.

In 2003, the city's pension crisis meant frozen salaries, which meant officers leaving in droves, which in turn meant scaling back community-resource officers in order to get basic police patrols covered.

The year 2014 was rife with serious misconduct allegations in the department, and police Chief William Lansdowne asked the U.S. Department of Justice to audit the department.

Advertisement

Many of the Justice Department's recommendations focused on how the police department could forge better community relationships. When police Chief Shelley Zimmerman took over that same year, she made community policing a priority for every officer.

Today, there is no national consensus that community policing deters crime. But the police department believes it goes a long way to foster trust and respect.

Leon Williams and Lyndsay Winkley, a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, discuss the history of community policing in San Diego on Midday Edition on Wednesday.