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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego Police Commission Proposes Changes To SDPD Protest Policy

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego's commission on police practices is recommending a number of changes to the San Diego police departments, protest policy. They want SDPD to clarify when a protest can be declared an unlawful assembly, and they want changes to the usage of body camera footage protestors in San Diego have long been decrying. What they see as a disproportionate response to lawful demonstrations while police officials often cite unruly behavior among protestors. As the reason the events escalate into violence here to discuss the commission's recommendations is chair Brandon Hilpert Brandon. Welcome to the program. Thank you. Glad to be here. How did the commission come up with these changes to SDPD protest policy? Speaker 2: 00:42 Sure. Well actually, let me take a step back is, uh, after the George Floyd incidents, uh, last year we actually took a look to see what San Diego police department had. Uh, and we realized that they actually didn't have a standalone protest policy. They were using existing policies, uh, for use of force. And when you can use, um, chemical agents, things like that, um, which we, to be honest, I was surprised about because, uh, I never thought to look and once we realized it wasn't there, uh, we felt it was appropriate for San Diego to, to make that change. So at the time the CRB, uh, held some community meetings, uh, with a policy committee and we looked at some policies around the country. Specifically, we found Seattle, uh, Oakland Fresno and Washington DC, uh, to be some of the best that we found across the country that we thought could be leveraged here in San Diego. Speaker 2: 01:28 So the CRB at the time for, to those, to the police department, uh, and then they looked at those and they decided that they would go ahead and start to create a standalone policy specifically for protest related activities. So based upon that, uh, you know, once they wrote their policy, they shared that with us. We had our, our first policy committee meeting where we reviewed it, had some initial conversations, and then we also held a community round table to try to get more community feedback of what they like, what they don't like, what they would like to see. And then we brought it to the full committee, uh, sorry, at the commission meeting to have the commission vote on it. And then we wrote our memo to the police department last week. Speaker 1: 02:02 Tell me more about the outreach process. I know in the past, there's been some discontent over how much the community is involved with the polices policies and how they're changed. What kind of outreach did you do to come up with these recommendations? Speaker 2: 02:17 Sure. So as you know, um, the commission has kind of in a state of flux right now, as we've moved from a review board to a commission model. So we're not completely commissioned yet, but as part of that process, we want to make sure that the community has the opportunity to voice their opinions and what they like and what they don't like. Um, that's not to say that we'll be able to implement everything that the community always requests, but, uh, we wanted to try to be as open and transparent as to what we're doing. So even before we got to the protest policy, uh, we started doing community outreach events. Um, our outreach committee chair held four community round tables. Uh, some of the feedback we got from that kind of leveraged into the policy, uh, recommendations we had for protest related issues, but specifically for the protest policy. Uh, again, we have an open meeting, uh, for the policy committee. Uh, we then make those recommendations to the full commission and then the commission meeting is an open meeting, of course. Uh, but for this one, we actually held an additional community round table, uh, before our open meetings. So we could try and get that feedback, incorporate that into our recommendations and then present that to the full commission, to have them vote on our, our feedback. Speaker 1: 03:19 Did you or anyone else on the commission observe any of the contentious protests firsthand and, and how did that experience form the basis for these recommendations? Speaker 2: 03:29 Yeah, so I personally did not. Um, I know some of our commission members did, um, you know, as a commission, we try to be independent. Uh, we don't want to really be on the side of the police department or necessarily on the side of the community. We try to be an independent, uh, review, uh, soon to be, you know, investigatory model. Um, but I mean, I think one of the things that we do tend to see is when we do review our, uh, community complaints, um, sometimes those are protests related, uh, and you know, sometimes just standard, you know, events that happened. Um, so oftentimes our recommendations are based on the complaints that we see. And then when, once we're analyzing that complaint and we look at the policy and the procedure, we realized that maybe the policy and procedure doesn't really respond the way we think it should. Speaker 2: 04:08 Uh, so that's usually how most of our recommendations, uh, come about is either we see something that's either on the news or, you know, like to your point, if people have been actually out at a protest and they saw something that was, you know, maybe could have been handled better, um, or complaints that just come in. So, uh, again, I, I specifically didn't go to any of the protests, but, um, we, we did see a lot of the community feedback and then oftentimes the committee will reach out to us and let us know, uh, if they saw something they felt was maybe could have been handled better, um, both their share their feedback with us. And we'll usually do a little bit research to figure out if things could have been done differently. Speaker 1: 04:41 What has been the response that you've gotten from San Diego police so far, Speaker 2: 04:45 Uh, for the project sponsor? We haven't heard back yet. Um, I know the PO the recommendations just went out last week. It usually will take them a little while to, to review kind of digest what we're asking for. Um, and then they'll usually do a formal written response. Um, as one thing that we've shared with everyone, our recommendations are public. We put them up on our website and the response we received back from the police department will be, uh, put up on the website as well. So, um, I, I hope to hear back from them soon. Um, I haven't heard back yet, but I'm sure they're reviewing our recommendations and we'll have some, some feedback for us Speaker 1: 05:16 In your first recommendation. You say that the current protest policy reads more as strictly crowd control rather than the facilitation of first amendment protected activities. Can you tell me more about that? Speaker 2: 05:27 Sure. One of the things, um, you know, obviously when we looked at policies from around the country, Washington DC, you know, KU has a very, very detailed policy. It's, you know, over a hundred pages. Um, I, I don't think San Diego needed to go quite to that level, but I think it's important that, um, people who do want to use their first minute rights to protest that they know what they can and can't do. Um, and this policy, I think really talks more about if the police department has decided that something is, is now an unlawful assembly, how the police department responds, and I think that's important, but I think what's also important is it needs to be clear what the community can do during a protest activity. And, uh, the department, I think in the past has done a pretty good job of trying to facilitate a peaceful activities. Speaker 2: 06:06 It's just, we want more clarity on when the department has decided something is not a peaceful assembly, um, how they respond, what it takes to get to that level, and then, you know, how the community can respond. One of the things that, you know, we were a little bit concerned about is, you know, I think this is a good first step for some of the policy that they've created. There's a little too much ambiguity for us. Um, I think there's certain areas where it basically says, you know, a dispersal order will be given, but it doesn't really currently provide a lot of feedback on that of, of how many, how long, how many minutes do people have to depart a scene before, uh, you know, officers might go in and we want to see that clarity, because I think that's important for the community to know, you know, what the expected expectations of them are, uh, before something, you know, escalates when it gets out of control Speaker 1: 06:49 San Diego police officials have often cited unruly behavior of protesters as the main reason that things escalate into violence, maybe throwing rocks or bottles. Do you think that this is a fair assessment? Speaker 2: 07:01 No, it's always, I think it's a, it's a difficult situation. Obviously. I think the citizens need to be protected. Officers need to be protected. Um, I think it's, you have to look at the total situation to determine if the response from the police department is appropriate. Um, you know, I'm making a story up here, but if someone crumbles up paper and throws it up as an officer, does that justify response of someone, you know, an officer using a chemical agent in, in retaliation? Well, we would probably argue no. Um, you know, if protesters are throwing rocks or things like that, you know, does that justify a response from the deployment, the department within their, their use of force? Yeah, that's, that's possibly something that would be appropriate, but we want to see clarity on all that. And we think that it should be a open and transparent piece. So the department is, is letting the community know exactly what will happen and when, and why. Speaker 1: 07:49 I've been speaking with Brandon helper, chair of the interim commission on police practices in the city of San Diego. Brandon, thanks for joining us. Speaker 2: 07:57 No problem. Thanks for having me. Speaker 3: 08:04 [inaudible].

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The commission submitted a 19 proposed changes involving SDPD's policy on how officers respond to and interact with protestors.
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