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Council Takes Next Step In Establishing Law Enforcement Oversight Group

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The San Diego City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to direct labor negotiators to begin a collective bargaining process with city employees regarding a proposed ballot measure to establish an independent commission overseeing local law enforcement conduct.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego city council members advanced a ballot measure to create an independent commission that would look into complaints of officer misconduct. City council woman Monica Montgomery led the debate on the creation of the commission and said it's needed to improve trust between police and the community.

Speaker 2: 00:17 This is not the be all to end all. We have so much work to do in this area, but I do believe that it is a bridge and I believe that it will help us get to where we need to be.

Speaker 1: 00:29 KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Boeing has been following the negotiations and joined us to explain. Andrew, welcome. Thanks Jade. So currently San Diego has a community review board on police practices. How would this proposed independent commission be different? The biggest difference is in the degree of power that this new oversaw oversight body would have. So as you mentioned, the community review board on police practices is what exists now and they operate under what's called a review model. So in cases of complaints against officers, I'm officer involved shootings in custody deaths. Typically the San Diego police department will conduct an investigation and come to a conclusion. Was a complaint justified? Was a shooting justified? Did, did officers follow a department policy? And then the community review board reviews that internal affairs investigation and decides whether it agrees or disagrees. Um, and it's purely an advisory, a statement basically saying we think it was right or we think it was wrong, but it doesn't necessarily mean an officer would be charged with a crime or, or disciplined in any way.

Speaker 1: 01:30 The new police review commission that's being proposed would have the power to conduct its own investigation, subpoena witnesses or evidence in, in different, um, cases. And this is more similar to what exists at the County Sheriff's department. Uh, what's called the County law enforcement review board or club. So basically the, the justification is that this would create a new sort of independent body that would be more, uh, separate from the San Diego police department. There are a few other changes. Like the city council would appoint members of this new commission rather than the mayor. And also they would have independent legal counsel apart from the city attorney's office. So what exactly did the council vote on yesterday? The council voted to initiate a meet and confer process with city labor unions, which uh, is a requirement under a state law called the Meyers Milias Brown act. When the city wants to change the wages or hours or terms of employment of their workers, they first have to meet and confer with those unions if the unions want to.

Speaker 1: 02:32 Um, it doesn't mean that they have to come to an agreement with the unions, but at the very least they have to talk with them and see if there are any disagreements over what's being proposed and whether those can be resolved through a, a good faith bargaining process. Um, there are six labor unions that are recognized by the city representing firefighters, lifeguards, um, blue collar workers, office workers and deputy city attorneys and most importantly the police officers association. Um, so the city is notifying all six of those unions, perhaps just out of an abundance of caution. Really the police officers are the ones who are, who have the most at stake here and this is all further than the effort has gotten previously. There was a very similar charter amendment that went to the city council last year and by the time that it got to the city council that a deadline for submitting ballot measures to the County registrar of voters was less than two weeks away.

Speaker 1: 03:20 So there was no near nowhere near enough time to actually complete the meet and confer process. And supporters of this ballot measure really put the blame on former council president Myrtle Cole should they say that she was essentially running out the clock and trying to ensure that this measure would die. Cole ended up losing her reelection to Monica Montgomery, who we heard from in the intro to this segment. And uh, that this issue of the community review board really played a key role in that election. Why is it required that the city confer with the unions on this potential ballot measure? Well, it goes back to the whole history of the labor movement really. Uh, the Myers Millie's Brown act has been around for more than a half a century. Um, it granted the right to collective bargaining for public sector workers in California and it established this meet and confer requirements.

Speaker 1: 04:07 So the purpose is essentially just to promote good communication between local governments and employees of those governments to establish clear rules for all the public sector unions and avoid, um, acrimonious things like strikes and identify disagreements and see if they can be resolved. So then is there any indication about how the city's unions feel about this ballot measure? We haven't really heard any statements from any of the five unions other than the police officers. The police officers association opposed this measure last time around and they said it was unnecessary that it would cost more money and it wouldn't really have a meaningful impact on police community relations. That was their thoughts. Um, this time around they've actually been pretty quiet. Um, so it's likely that any, uh, you know, disagreements that they have with this measure would just be happening essentially behind closed doors in that meet and confer process.

Speaker 1: 04:58 And briefly, what are the possible outcomes of the talks between the city and the unions? Well, as I said, they don't have to come to an agreement. All they have to do was talk. So the unions could say, this measure is fine as proposed, they could ask for changes and then the city could either agree to those changes or disagree on if they can't come to an agreement, they have to declare an impasse and there's a whole process laid out for that. Um, whether this measure is, uh, ready for the March ballot, I think it's pretty unlikely because, um, we're just a month away from the deadline for that election. So it'll likely make, if it makes it to the ballot at all, it'll be for November of next year, and ultimately it will have to return to the city council before it's put on the ballot. That's correct. After the meet and confer process concludes, the council will take another vote on whether to place it on the ballot. All right. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thanks. Thanks Jade.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.