SDPD Announces Plan To Reduce Officer Misconduct
Nine San Diego Police Department officers have been accused of some form of misconduct in recent months. We speak to KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr about how the San Diego Police Department is responding to the accusations.
Katie Orr, metro reporter for KPBS News
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
CAVANAUGH: A rash of accusations against San Diego police officers this year have people wondering if it's a sad coincidence or a problem in the force. Nine SDPD officers have been accused of misconduct in recent months ranging excessive force to driving under the influence, and sexual assault. Chief William Lansdowne is initiating some changes within the department to retrain and monitor the force. KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr, is here to tell us about the proposed changes. Katie, good morning.
ORR: Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: How -- what are these officers actually accused of? And have they all been, like, brought up on charges? Or are some of them thought sort of in limbo now if?
ORR: Yes, in the past three months, nine officers have been accused of misconduct, as you said. Everything from drunk driving to sexual assault, to stalking, to domestic violence, five of these cases have resulted in criminal charms, and the other four, they're just investigating. Police chief William Lansdowne called the number of cases unprecedented, actually.
CAVANAUGH: So what's going on at the police department? Center an underlying issue that in any way connects these problems?
ORR: Well, there's really no clear explanation. It should be said that these are not roomy officers who are perhaps just not as experienced. One officer has 12 years on the job, another had 23†years on the job. Chief Lansdowne says there's no excuse for the behavior. He made that clear. He apologized in a public news conference yesterday. But he does say that the department has been stretched very thin over the past couple of years.
NEW SPEAKER: We're down about 300 police officers, as I speak to you today, about a hundred and 40 civilian positions within the San Diego police department. It certainly has an effect. I'm not any longer asking to do more with les. I'm asking them to do less with less in the process.
ORR: Lansdowne says he's losing five officers a month through attrition, and that they evaporate had a police academy in over eight months because of budget cuts. That means they're not training new officers to fill those spots. Although there is going to be one finally this July to train about 25 new recruits.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we have heard, as this budget cutting process in the City of San Diego has continued over the past couple years, that police and fire are basically sacrosanct, that they will not be cut. But now we're hearing that indeed the police department has been squeezed. Tell us about that.
ORR: Well, a lot of it has to do with budget cuts. They might not have laid off police officers, but what they've done is eliminated positions that were already vacant, so eliminating the potential to hire new police cars, they'll eliminated about 260 positions in the last two years or so. Also the city has made some changes or did make some changes to its drop retirement plan. And a lot of the senior police officers actually retired early to take advantage of those changes before they were made, which would have made their benefits les, so they retired earlier to got increased benefit, and that's left the police department with a staffing shortage as well.
CAVANAUGH: I'm wandering, what -- I know that chief Lansdowne did apologize. Did he apologize for anything specifically, or was this just on behalf of the department for actually having this news of officers misbehaving in the headlines over the last few months?
ORR: Well, he didn't address any of the indicates special, but he did just apologize and said that this isn't behavior that is condoned or expected by the police department. You know, he -- I think he was trying to imply that there's not this, like, good old boys network that sort of looks the other way. He was not saying that. He was saying they actually started to see sign was an issue back in January, and they started crafting this seven step plan, which he announced yesterday. And he said that these sort of caught up with him before they were expecting these cases. [CHECK AUDIO] but the plan they put in place, it includes increasing the staffing thea the department's internal affairs unit. One thing he said, because of these budget cut, they have actually focused a lot of their attention on the patrol division so that people, you and me, would not see an increase in crime on the streets, and you would see your police officer out there patrolling, but as a result there's been less attention focused on other areas of the diameter so they're beefing up the staffing of the internal affairs. They are going to conduct ethics and leadership training for supervisors of he's setting up a 24/7 anonymous tip line. So that if you have a complaint about a police officer, or here interestingly said that if someone is living with a police officer, they think there's a problem, they can call anonymously, and let somebody know before they might have been worried that it would get back to the police officer that they knew that they had called.
CAVANAUGH: Right. That's interesting. A couple of these complaints have been against officers on accusations of excessive force. I'm thinking of one outside of a bar in Hillcrest that was caught on somebody's cellphone. Another that was on -- actually posted on YouTube, somebody in a choke hold, the head being slammed into the pavement. Now, we do not know whether or not there was actual misconduct involved yet, because I don't think either of those cases have been resolved. But is this a problem in training, do you think? Is that gonna be addressed in any of these new plans the chief announced?
ORR: Well, part of the plan is to go back and review the discipline manuals, so if there's something in there that needs to be changed or tightened up. They're also going to look at their use of force training and tactics to see if those are being trained being implemented in the correct way. The police chief says he's also planning to meet with other police officer in the department to take to them to get their feedback about what's going on. And supervisors will also do wellness assessments on their police officer when is they meet with them, to make sure psychologically they're in a good frame of mind as well.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Before you leave, Katie, I want to change gears just a little bit. Although wee still talking about city employees. Mayor Sanders reached an agreement with some of the labor unions to reform the city's retiree healthcare system. That news broke on Friday. We haven't talked to you since about that. Upon so how will the city's retiree healthcare system change in the future if this plan is approved?
ORR: Well, in the future, city employees, part of union employees will have to contribute towards their retirement health benefit for the first time. Before they didn't have to, and the city, when they retired, the city would give them monthly benefit checks. Now, if you want to keep receiving a monthly benefit check before you retire, you have to start paying towards your retirement. If you don't want to start paying towards your retirement, the employees can elect to take a lump sum from the city, when they become eligible for retirement, and I was told the average would be about $100,000, and then the employee is responsible for investing it. The city basically giving them their money and washes their hands of it. And the employee has to do what he or she wants to with that money. Which is a change, because as I said, before the city would give them benefit checks, and they had escalators to keep up with the cost of living, and this takes that away.
CAVANAUGH: This agreement was announced rather quickly after a court found that these retirement benefits were not invest vested, right?
ORR: Yes, two police officers this sued the city over putting a cap on an $800 a month [CHECK AUDIO] this is a vested benefit, meaning the city cannot change it. This court, and the city attorney says, it was just one court, it was a test case, but till it sets a best of a precedent, saying this is not a vested benefit. The city can change it or even take it away if at the present times to do that. Now, the city attorney said that's not going to happen. The city still has to negotiate in good faith with these unions. And the city believes, and some of the unions who have agreed to this believe that -- four out of the six have now agreed, that this is a fair deal for everyone involved.
CAVANAUGH: Before I talk to you previously about who opposes this plan, how much does the city think it will save if this deal about city retiree healthcare goes through?
ORR: Well, the mayor says it will immediately shave $323†million off of the city's retiree healthcare liability, which now stands at about 1.1 pill yen dollars, and he says it will save us $714†million over the next 25†years. And I should say that employees hired after 2005 didn't receive a retiree health benefit. So this is really dealing with employees who are hired in the '80s until about 2005. Employees who are already retired will not see their benefits change. Those are vested, but employees who are still visible, and still working for the city, could see an adjustment in their benefits.
CAVANAUGH: So the long, long-term problem has already been taken care of. When they're expecting is to try to take care of this bump that they're seeing.
CAVANAUGH: Now, who is opposed to this agreement that was reached?
ORR: Well, the police officer it is' association has not agreed to the deal. They're still in negotiations, and it's not clear if they will agree or not. That is something that might be fought out in court, if they can't come to an agreement, and now the city attorneys have actually balked at the idea too. It's not clear that they're going to SIGN onto this agreement. So they have to still negotiate with the city to come to the final terms of their agreement.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So what needs to happen, though, before this agreement actually becomes a done deal?
ORR: Well, the City Council approved the contracts in closed session. So that's good, and then the firefighters, life guards, and white collar union have all accepted the deal, and they're set to go. It's expected that the blue collar union is expected to sign off on it as well. So really that leaves the city attorneys, and the police officers to work out a deal with the city.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, Katie, thanks so much?
ORR: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr. If you'd like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days.