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San Diego Councilwoman Determined To Put More Teeth In Civilian Police Oversight

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Monica Montgomery is determined to avoid a repeat of the council's failure last year to place a measure on the ballot to strengthen civilian oversight of police officers.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Moving from the County to the city of San Diego. The volunteer group, women occupy has been pushing for years for a stronger civilian oversight of city police officers. It wants a new commission with the power to investigate alleged officer misconduct separately from SDPD internal affairs city council member Monica Montgomery is leading the effort to put that idea on the 2020 ballot over the objections of the police officer's union. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen spoke to Montgomery about where the debate is heading. Heading

Speaker 2: 00:37 last year we saw this idea of a, a new independent police review commission die before it ever got a vote at the city council on whether to place it on the ballot. What's the status of your idea now and how are you going to ensure that that doesn't happen again?

Speaker 3: 00:50 So, uh, we have seen, um, and um, have been monitoring the women occupy ballot measure proposal and it came to committee, our last committee meeting, which I believe was September 18th. So at that, that committee, uh, it pass through unanimously, but it is coming back to committee with a legal analysis from the city attorney. And it was really important for me coming into office that we don't get caught in the procedural loopholes of this, that my colleagues are able to, uh, judge the proposal based on the merits of it and make a decision from there.

Speaker 2: 01:27 Supporters of this measure say that it's really about the process, they want a more independent process, but there are also some out there who are unhappy with the current outcomes of the current a community review board. For you, what is most important to you? Is it, and do you think that this new model with a, an independent investigation will actually lead to different outcomes?

Speaker 3: 01:49 I think it will. Um, there were four major things that I was dedicated to since inauguration day, um, based on, um, civilian oversight of the police department. And those are the investigative powers, subpoena power, independent commission and independent counsel. And this proposal has all of those, um, factors in it. And so I think that we've been working really hard to ensure that it is an effective commission, um, in word and indeed. And so that's what the, all the going back and forth is about. But I believe it will be effective and it will be sort of like a hybrid model where there'll be, there will be some review mechanisms there, but the investigative powers, the most important,

Speaker 2: 02:34 I spoke with the head of the police officer's association last year, the last time around and something that he told me was that he felt like no matter how robust or independent a civilian review board is overseeing the police, that there are always going to be some people in the community that simply don't trust the police. What's your response to that?

Speaker 3: 02:55 First of all, it's no excuse for us not to do better. We have do better. There will always be folks just as you mentioned, folks that maybe want me to go a little bit further or don't want me to do this, uh, I'm doing what I believe is right. I think the police officers should do what they believe is right. I think that every entity should have a check and a balance. That is what this is about. It's, there will always be folks either based on their own personal experience with officers or other influence that do not trust police officers. That probably will never change. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have strong oversight over entity. Any entity, including the police department.

Speaker 2: 03:35 This is an issue that you ran on during your campaign. One, possibly something that actually helped you get elected in your district. Uh, but now that we're seeing the real policymaking, uh, happen some of the details, some of the people who originally supported you are actually kind of pushing you to go further than what you might otherwise do. What has that been like for you?

Speaker 3: 03:59 Um, it's, it's politics. It's government. Um, I'm dedicated to a good policy. The four factors are what I ran on subpoena power, which that was the only thing at issue when I ran really, uh, all of the rest of this was, you know, there's something that we've developed along, uh, over time, but the independent commission, independent counsel, investigative powers, and subpoena power, all wrapped up into the policy that I support. So in my view, I'm doing what I said I would do for those who are not supporting or wanting to to go further have that right. And I understand why, but I'm doing what I believe is right for the city.

Speaker 2: 04:36 Monica Montgomery, thank you for speaking.

Speaker 3: 04:38 Yes, thank you.

Speaker 4: 04:40 Joining me is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thank you. Let's back up just a little from your conversation with council member Montgomery. Do we know how exactly advocates want to change the present community police review board? Yes. So, uh, the current CRB as it's known, operates under what's called a review model. So, um, after a couple of different types of incidents, for example, an officer involved shooting and in custody death, um, some cases of complaints of officer misconduct, detectives with the San Diego police departments, internal affairs division, we'll conduct an investigation and then the CRB reviews that investigation and votes on whether they agree or disagree with its findings. The advocates say that this doesn't really build a lot of trust with community. They are discouraged from making complaints because of past experiences and they want some type of independent investigation done outside of the SDPD, um, you know, framework entirely.

Speaker 4: 05:37 And that they also want the, a new review commission to have the power to subpoena their own witnesses for example, or new documents. Now there's one other complaint that they have and that's the, and it's slightly less controversial. So, um, there's the city attorney's office advises both the community review board and SDPD. Um, there are internal safeguards to ensure that it's never the same attorney who's advising both of those bodies, but, uh, it does for some create the appearance of a conflict of interest, um, which can damage its reputation as well. So the new model would also have an independent, a lawyer, uh, independent counsel for the new review commission. Now you say some of the people who supported, uh, council member Montgomery are now pushing her to advocate a stronger police review board. Then she might actually want, what are they asking for and how are they pushing her?

Speaker 4: 06:31 I don't think that stronger is really the right word. It's more about some fine details. So, um, one example is that a lot of advocates want a seat on the community review board that's guaranteed for youth. Um, and they want that written into the city charter amendment that this, that city voters would ultimately vote on. Um, there's also some disagreements over the board's authority and responsibilities. So what types of things are they required to investigate? What types of things would they have the authority to investigate if they want to, but they're not necessarily required to, there's some questions of budget and whether the city should be required to fund an adequate budget for this board. Um, but Montgomery says a lot of these issues don't necessarily need to be in the city a charter. Um, because there are two steps here that the city, ultimately the city voters would vote on this charter amendment.

Speaker 4: 07:18 It would be passed into what is essentially the city's constitution. And then step two is the city council would pass an ordinance that implements the charter amendment. So, um, that is a little bit more flexible and, and say something that's in the, um, written in stone in the city charter is a lot more difficult to change if it's not working. Um, some of these things could be accomplished in the, um, San Diego municipal code as opposed to the charter council member Monica Monica Marie talks about this issue as if it were central to the reason that she's on the city council in the first place. How true is that? I think it's 100% true. Uh, many blamed Montgomery's predecessor and Myrtle call for allowing this measure to die last year. A bit of background. So Cole said that she supported this idea of a new investigative body to oversee the police, but she never initiated the meet and confer process with the police officers union that would have been required in order to clear this, this measure for the ballot.

Speaker 4: 08:19 By the time the issue actually got to the full city council, that was too late because that, that process with the negotiating with the union, it had not even been started. Um, Montgomery ran on this issue in the campaign. I think it's something that she absolutely used to distinguish herself between her opponent, the incumbent Myrtle, Cole, and um, it really fueled some of her grassroots support. Last year you spoke with a police officer's association representative who said that police did not want our review board to investigate independently because even that kind of a review board won't satisfy all their critics, all police critics. But are there other reasons that a police don't want a new review board? Well, they say that the current CRB works fine, um, that the, a, they say it's an understatement to say that they just review the internal affairs investigation, that they actually go into more deeper details and they audit it.

Speaker 4: 09:13 Basically, uh, we haven't heard this, I haven't heard this specifically from the POA [inaudible], but police using unions generally have resisted anything that would increase scrutiny of, of their officer's performance on their jobs because they feel like the job is already hard enough. And, uh, you know, making it even more difficult, you know, especially when an officer's life is on the line. Intense situations. Um, would just make it impossible for them to do their jobs. Um, there's also a question of cost. As I mentioned earlier, I'm the independent budget analyst did review, um, most more recently this, um, the latest proposal and found that it would cost a couple of million dollars, um, per year. So the POA also mentioned last year that, you know, we have to weigh that factor as well as this something that is really worth our money. Now, how does San Diego stack up against the other major cities in California and how they review police behavior?

Speaker 4: 10:05 The review model of the San Diego's a CRB is not uncommon. You know, you allow the internal affairs to do their investigation and then there's this independent body that just does bet a second review of it. Several other cities have this model. Uh, but there are other cities that have a more robust, uh, process where there is an independent investigation. We heard earlier in the show about clerk, the County law enforcement review board, um, that does have the power to subpoena witnesses and conduct their own independent investigation. And those types of, of, uh, you know, that type of review model can actually lead to different outcomes as the council members suggested. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Maureen.

Speaker 5: 10:48 [inaudible].

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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.