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Public Safety

Council Members Tackle Questions Of Race Relations, Community Involvement

San Diegans protested police brutality while members of the police force watched the San Diego City Council inauguration ceremony at Golden Hall, Dec. 10, 2014.
Angela Carone
San Diegans protested police brutality while members of the police force watched the San Diego City Council inauguration ceremony at Golden Hall, Dec. 10, 2014.

Several City Council members said Wednesay that further engagement with the community is necessary to strengthen public trust in the San Diego Police Department — part of the fallout from fatal shootings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

The comments at a meeting of the council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee were in response to a list of demands from a group that conducted a mostly silent protest at the city's inauguration ceremony last month.

Among other things, the Black Student Justice Coalition asked for reviews of police "abuses" and data collection, compiling annual reports of use of deadly force by officers, and strengthening the San Diego Citizens' Review Board on Police Practices.

The demands were given to several council members and SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman. Mark Jones, the coalition's leader in San Diego, said he has since met with them.

"We definitely want our community to stay involved in this process," Jones said. "This is not a short-term thing. We're not against cops — we love our cops but we want bad ones out. We're thankful for the good ones."

Jones, a Marine veteran, said the department needs to improve its cultural sensitivity training to reduce what he calls "institutional racism." He said a recent discrimination lawsuit by a black SDPD sergeant over a racially offensive cartoon used during police training proved that race remains an issue.

The SDPD chief said the department has good relations with all the communities in San Diego, but more has to be done.

"Police-community relations is not just a one time meeting, or a one time class, or a one time project, it must be on the forefront seven-24," Zimmerman said. "Because if police-community relations is not a priority, the years it took to build the trust of a community can start to erode away in just mere seconds."

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, who represents the historically black fourth district, said the discussion on the issue is just beginning.

"I encourage further collaboration as we move toward bridging the gap between our police department and the community," Cole said.

She said San Diego can lead the nation in resolving the issue as it did in providing cameras worn on police officers' uniforms — a device now being purchased by law enforcement agencies around the country.