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Public Safety

Report: Lapses In Supervision, Accountability Led to SDPD Misconduct Cases

U.S. Department of Justice report on SDPD
U.S. Department of Justice report on SDPD
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A federal probe of the San Diego Police Department has found gaps in policies regarding officer misconduct, a lack of consistent supervision, and a failure to hold employees accountable that allowed misconduct to go on undetected for years.

Ron Davis, director of the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said the investigation focused on 17 cases of misconduct.

"On one hand, we found that the 17 cases were not linked to any particular behavior or one item, but we did find some areas that are definitely in need of improvement, or deficiencies," Davis said at a news conference Tuesday to announce the findings.

"I think the thing that stood out for us was the failure of leadership on small issues," Davis said. "Like anything else, failure on small issues leads to big issues."

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy and Davis said on Tuesday that the San Diego Police Department has already begun some reforms to correct the problems.

The Police Executive Research Forum, an independent organization, conducted the review of the Police Department’s policies and practices related to preventing and detecting officer misconduct.

The Police Department asked the U.S. Justice Department for the review in early 2014. The federal agency’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services then asked the Police Executive Research Forum to do the review.

Here are the report's key findings:

• Department’s leaders did not “adequately address smaller problems,” which led to much larger issues.

• Officer misconduct cases were often the result of “a lack of consistent supervision at many levels.” There also was “a failure to hold personnel accountable that allowed misconduct to occur and go undetected for some time.”

• The city’s financial crisis led to a 10 percent cut in Police Department spending from 2010 to 2013. The cuts made it more difficult for managers to monitor officers’ behavior.

• So many vacancies in the sergeant ranks led to many filling the role as “acting sergeants” who lacked the full authority to monitor officers’ conduct.

• Budget cuts led to “undesirable scheduling practices” with officers having to work with different sergeants each week.

The report also has four pages of recommendations of changes the department should make in the areas of recruitment, supervision and training, accountability, and community partnerships.

City leaders asked for the federal investigation and for recommendations to improve local policing and public safety efforts with the goal of restoring public confidence in the SDPD.

"This is a report that I welcome as mayor of the city of San Diego," Faulconer said. "The good news for San Diegans is that this department is making significant progress on virtually every single one of these items."

He said when he became mayor, it was critical to restore confidence in both the city government and its police department, the reputation of which was sullied by a small number of people.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said community trust is a "precious but perishable" commodity that needs constant nurturing.

"Police community relations is not a one-time training class or a one- time project or a one-time community meeting," the chief said."It must be at the forefront, 24/7, or else all these years of hard work that it took to build the trust of our community can start to erode away in just mere seconds."

Zimmerman said the recommendations in the report will help strengthen the San Diego Police Department.

In a statement, Councilman Todd Gloria said the Justice Department made "clear several deficiencies that need addressing throughout the San Diego Police Department."