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Measure B: Asking San Diego Voters To Beef Up Police Oversight

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Measure B asks for a Commission on Police Practices that would have the power to subpoena and conduct investigations into police officer misconduct.

Speaker 1: 00:00 This year has seen protests, demonstrations over racial profiling and police practices that demand more focus on questions of police accountability. In the city of San Diego voters will have a chance to decide whether to form a more independent police oversight body here to explain how measure B would change the existing system of police oversight is KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traeger, Sarah Claire. Welcome. Thank you. So now measure B would disband the current community review board and police practices and replace it with a commission on police practices. It may sound like just replacing a name, but there is a significant difference between the two, right?

Speaker 2: 00:39 Yes, definitely. The commission on police practices, uh, would have its own staff and an independent attorney and the power to subpoena and conduct investigations into police officer misconduct. Um, and that's, that's different from what the community review board was able to do. Um, and the new commission would also review complaints against officers and make recommendations on police officer discipline and police policies.

Speaker 1: 01:10 So what was not happening under the, the current community review board that, that people who want to see measure B pass say needs to happen,

Speaker 2: 01:20 Right? So it's the big picture is that it's really about independence from the police department. So currently on the review board, all the members are appointed by the mayor. Um, but the new commission would have members appointed by the city council. So that's one difference. Another difference is right now, uh, the lawyers who help the community review board are part of the city attorney's office, but the new commission would have an outside attorney. And then it would also have staff that are not part of the mayor's office or the police department. And then really most importantly, the new commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. Whereas right now the board can only review the internal affairs investigations that are done within the police department. And so, you know, there's questions sometimes about whether that internal affairs is, is really doing as thorough an investigation as maybe the community would like. Right.

Speaker 1: 02:17 Right. So, so who currently makes the final decision about whether a police action was justified or not

Speaker 2: 02:24 Sure? So in terms of a shooting, that would be the district attorney. And even with this, with if measure B passes, it would still be the district attorney who would decide whether a police officer shooting another person, uh, was justified or not. Um, the new commission would really make recommendations to the San Diego police chief for discipline of an officer, and then written into the measure in measure B it says the chief must consider, uh, the recommendations that that commission makes. No,

Speaker 1: 02:54 You mentioned that the city council would now be approving the members of the commission rather than the mayor. Would there be any public input on who's on the commission?

Speaker 2: 03:02 Sure. Yeah. So this is interesting. Um, it's going to be interesting to see how this process goes. If the measure is approved, because right now the mayor appoints the board, as we said. And so it seems easier for one person being the mayor to pick out who will serve, but when you have an entire city council picking out members, uh, they'll have to establish a system for how they do that. And that's, that's what the measure says is that the city council needs to set up how it's going to go about this process. So whether that's each council person gets to a point, a certain number of people or people nominate themselves and the council votes, I'm not sure how it will work. So to answer your question, members of the public, won't get to vote on the commission members, but, um, maybe they would have more say just by, you know, being able to contact their, their council office, uh, more of a direct representation that way

Speaker 1: 03:58 [inaudible]. So what do police officers think of this development? I mean, has the police union reacted? Do they see this as, as threatening or unfair? Yeah.

Speaker 2: 04:05 You should say there's, there's no organized opposition, uh, to this measure. Um, and the police union is neutral on it. I asked a police union, president Jack Schafer for an interview and he just sent an email and said, the voters can decide what type of oversight they have in terms of how police officers will feel about it. I suppose it will depend on how it operates, but Andrea st. Julian who's supporting the measure, says the whole idea is to treat officers like other professionals. Um, so here's what she said.

Speaker 3: 04:37 Police officers are professionals just like doctors and lawyers and dentists. And so they deserve to be treated in the same way that other professionals are treated. And that means having independent oversight to decide complaints against you. That's really, all this measure is about treating police officers, just like other professionals.

Speaker 1: 05:00 Now, where does San Diego fall in relation to the rest of the state for, for example, Los Angeles, do they already have an independent commission to oversee police?

Speaker 2: 05:09 Well, it's interesting. They have, I guess it's called a board of rights panel. Um, so officers can choose whether to have that panel, which is made up of three civilians review their discipline case, or they can choose a board with one civilian and two police department command staff members, and actually read a story in the LA times that said, officers are more likely to choose the three civilian board because they feel like civilians are more friendly to the police than maybe these command staff members. They have pretty much a different system, um, than, than what San Diego is proposing.

Speaker 1: 05:44 Interesting. Now, do you think that if we had not seen George Floyd die under the knee of a police officer back in may, do you think this measure would be on the ballot this November?

Speaker 2: 05:55 Yes. I think that it would measure has actually been a really long time coming. It first started back in 2016 with a activist group called women occupy San Diego, and they've been trying to get it on the ballot. They tried to get it, uh, in 2018 and due to some procedural hurdles. It didn't quite make it, um, so they were working well before, uh, the events with jarred Floyd, um, to get it on the ballot. I think that, that, that, and the kind of increased awareness of police brutality and racial disparities that came out of that have given me more emphasis, more attention to this measure.

Speaker 1: 06:31 And Clara, we should explain that measure. B is for San Diego city police force. So it doesn't apply to the County Charros for example, or the police departments in other San Diego cities. But do you see it as setting an important precedent for the region, perhaps? Sure.

Speaker 2: 06:46 I mean, San Diego County actually already has the citizens law enforcement review board called clerk, and that does have subpoena power, but that's only for reviewing actions of Sheriff's deputies. Um, so, so with the San Diego now joining, uh, with its own board, if measure B passes, other cities may then follow suit, for example, a Lamesa city council just approved a citizens oversight board, um, after some of the events with that arrest that was caught on camera. Um, earlier this summer, uh, I think the question for all of this just seems to be, you can set up a group like this, but what power those groups actually have, um, to see if they're effective in doing what community members want them to be able to do.

Speaker 1: 07:31 We've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. Claire. Thanks so much. Thank you.

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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.