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Pandemic And Protests

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Roundtable returns from hiatus to discuss the two major stories driving our coverage. A KPBS investigation looks into the use of force by local police, residents of Southeast San Diego describe their interactions with law enforcement, and more places reopen in San Diego county as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Speaker 1: 00:00 And DEMEC and protests. Two major stories have upended, how we live and how we relate to each other amid another week of protests in our streets, a new KPBS investigation into use of force by local police and a discussion on why so many members of our community distrust law enforcement. Plus how San Diego flattens the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic as our economy carefully reopens I'm Mark Sauer and the KPBS round table starts. Now

Speaker 2: 00:33 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:37 welcome back to the round table, our discussion of the week stop stories. I'm Mark's our due to the coronavirus pandemic. Our show has been off the air for more than three months. We're back radio only for now, and we're doing an interview format instead of a panel since my guests and I are all working from home for now. Still it's good to be back. And my guests today are KPBS investigative reporter, Claire Tresor, reporter Maya Sri Krishna, a voice of San Diego and KPBS medical reporter, Taran mento. First up today, it took a legal action by KPBS and other news outlets to get internal investigations into the use of force from police agencies in San Diego County. So far 130 investigations dating to 2001 reveal. If a suspect is a person of color, he's far more likely to face deadly force than if he's white Abbs, investigative reporter, Claire Tresor joins me now. Claire, welcome.

Speaker 3: 01:31 Thank you.

Speaker 1: 01:32 First explained by what we mean when we say deadly force and other means of force police may use in dealing with suspects that they deemed to be threatening,

Speaker 3: 01:42 right? So in these incidents, um, for the records that they are releasing, there's, you know, a number of different options that police might might take when dealing with someone, including they can use, uh, tasers, they can use, um, a canine or a police dog. They can use a rubber bullets or bean bags. And then, um, of course they can also choose to, to shoot someone. So those are the, those are the different options that we kind of broke down in this data.

Speaker 1: 02:11 Now, why is it so difficult for reporters and the public to get details of incidents where police use deadly force?

Speaker 3: 02:18 Right? So up until the beginning of last year, it was pretty much impossible in California to get any of these records because they were all protected under state law, but a new state law called SB 1421 went into effect January, 2019. And it said that now, um, police have to release their internal investigations and their video and their audio, everything that they have about these particular, not everything, but these specific incidents where I'm an officer fires, a gun or uses use of force that results in serious injury. And then there's also, um, sustained findings of sexual abuse or lying during the course of an investigation. But, but we looked at just at the serious use of force and the, and the shootings. Um, and again, like you said, uh, when we started, when the law went into effect at first, uh, police unions tried to argue that it didn't apply retroactively. So it would only mean that records going forward would have to be released. Um, but that, you know, was taken up in court and courts decided, yes, they do have to actually release, uh, past records as well. So they didn't start releasing until maybe March or April of last year, and now have been releasing the records for about a year.

Speaker 1: 03:37 And what did the examination of these 130 investigations turned over so far show specifically?

Speaker 3: 03:44 Right? So we, we down between people of color and, and white people, and it just, it really showed that among the records that we have so far, that when police are dealing with a person of color, they're more likely to shoot. And when they're dealing with a white person, they're more likely to use an alternative type of force, like a police dog, or a taser or something like that. Um, and again, as, as I say in the story that we don't have all of the records yet, uh, police agencies are still going through past records. They say that it takes a lot of time to review and redact the records. And so they slowly are rolling them out. And so we have about a third of the total records. The agencies say that they have, so this is just a preliminary look at, at what, what they've released. And, um, and that's what the data shows so far.

Speaker 1: 04:36 And you interviewed use of force experts and trainers with the San Diego police. What's their attitude about why violent incidents with suspects tend to happen?

Speaker 3: 04:45 Yeah. So, um, back last year, we went to a, uh, both a community outreach event with the San Diego police department and just interviewed, um, trainers use of force trainers. And they talked about, you know, uh, that people, if people just listen to police officers that they wouldn't have to use force and that they just have, they call it a force matrix where they choose what response they're making, um, based on what the person is doing. Um, one of the officers, uh, you know, was a lot more colorful in his descriptions where he said things like, you know, if you just did what I told you to do, we wouldn't have any problems. And you know, what happened when did, uh, officers become the, uh, the suspects and suspects become the victims? Um, so, you know, it's, I think that those attitudes may be, are now being, um, challenged and called into question more based on reason events. But, um, but that was the, that was, you know, what, what we heard from officers when we talked to them

Speaker 1: 05:49 and you also interviewed a community activist who, uh, they say, and those in the minority community, see it quite differently. What did she have to say?

Speaker 3: 05:57 Right. So she says, I mean, first of all, anytime you say, you know, what happened to our society? Why can't things be like they used to be to a person of color. That's a pretty controversial statement because the way things used to be for people of color was even worse than they are now. But she also just said that, you know, she, her experience with police officers in, in her area where she lives in Southeast San Diego is often just immediately confrontational where officers are jumping out the car and, and yelling at people. Um, and so, you know, she would like to see officers just initially right off the bat, take a different approach that doesn't immediately lead to more of, you know, an aggressive encounter,

Speaker 1: 06:43 right. Quite a different attitude. And police in San Diego have reacted quickly in the past week following protests and the news of the George Floyd death, of course, out of Minneapolis. Uh, and, uh, in other cities across the nation, they've, they've moved quickly this week. What changes have been made here in San Diego?

Speaker 3: 07:00 Right. So things have been happening very rapidly, um, changes that people have been asking for for a really long time or all of a sudden happening. So it started, I think with, um, the San Diego police department announced that they're no longer going to use the carotid restraint, which is commonly known as the choke hold. And then, um, the Sheriff's department first said they were still going to use it, but then said that they weren't going to use it. And then, you know, by the end of that day, I think every local law enforcement agency said they are going to ban the use of the carotid restraint. And then, uh, just this week, uh, the San Diego police department also said that they are going to now adopt a use of force. Uh, I sorry, a deescalation policy, um, which is something that a community review board has been trying to get done for two years. I think so all of a sudden, it seems like there's this moment where, um, you know, Oh, law enforcement agencies are, are willing to make some of these changes.

Speaker 1: 07:58 Is there an example of a city where major reforms have taken place, noticeable improvements were realized regarding police and the use of force against minorities?

Speaker 3: 08:07 Well, um, in, in my story, uh, my, the third segment of my story, I, I went up to Berkeley, California, and they have had a deescalation policy and training for about four years. So they really had time for it to take effect. Um, and they view it instead of, you know, the way San Diego is doing it is they just add on 10 extra hours of deescalation training, Berkeley, there are, you know, reevaluate all of their policies with deescalation in mind. So in every encounter, how can we approach someone in a way that's not going to aggravate them, um, instead of jumping out of a car and yelling at someone, you know, you kind of stand back and it's also about officer safety. So maybe you use your squad cars cover. So you don't get into a situation where you are then in a threatened and, and have to use force. Um, and it seems like, I mean, they, haven't had an officer involved shooting in eight years, I think. Um, it's, it's pretty effective there, although it's also interesting because, you know, if you talk to activists in the Berkeley area, they say, sure, that's fine. But you know, we still want more. We really want to reevaluate how policing is done completely. You know, police shouldn't be making stops for mental health issues. It should be other people kind of this defund, the police narrative that, that you hear going on right now.

Speaker 1: 09:36 Yeah. And there's a lot of angles and issues to this, and I'm sure we'll be covering much more of this in the future and talking about it on the round table. Well, I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. Thanks very much, Claire.

Speaker 3: 09:47 Thank you.

Speaker 1: 09:50 We turned down to the story. That's dominated the news worldwide in 2020, the Corona virus and the disease that causes joining me is KPBS health reporter Taron mental. Hi Taran.

Speaker 4: 10:00 Hey Mark.

Speaker 1: 10:02 Well, after three months, we're seeing more of San Diego County opening up. Finally, tell us a bit about what's back open this week.

Speaker 4: 10:09 Right? Well, earlier this week, we got a better access to beaches, uh, parking lots for opening up and all activities, as long as cities were okay with it, uh, were allowed to be happening on the shores. You know, group activities like volleyball, of course, as long as you are playing with members of your household, also RV parks and day camps and campgrounds were cleared to open up in, uh, and Friday. Um, other businesses, you know, gyms can open up, pools can open up. Hotels can open up, you know, a lot of those higher risk facilities can open up as long as they're adhering to, to state guidance. And, you know, we've, we've made some progress, I think two and a half, maybe three weeks ago, now restaurants have opened up and we haven't seen major spikes tied to those reopenings and that's giving the County County competence to keep moving forward.

Speaker 1: 10:54 Now, as more places open up, uh, what's that say about the work done to flatten the curve here locally?

Speaker 4: 11:00 You know, we hear your County officials say that we've, we've done that we have flattened the curve. But the thing that they keep saying is it's only been done because we've all been vigilant and we've been responsible and we've been taking the actions that they've been telling us to take washing our hands, staying home when we need to socially distancing. And they want to make sure that yes, things are opening up, but that doesn't mean that you can stop doing these things that have allowed us to get to the point where we can open up and, you know, at any one point the flatten, the curve that that can go to the wayside and we can see increases in spikes. So we have those triggers that the County is tracking to let us know when we seeing our, when we are seeing those case council's hospitalizations and some other metrics start to change

Speaker 1: 11:42 and more testing is available now, compared to when this all started in March or February lived before that is the County meeting its goals for testing. And if not, what are the challenges?

Speaker 4: 11:52 So the County is definitely re reaching its goals on some days, but it does fluctuate. I think they set them to the goal of 5,200 daily tests. Now, some days we've reached that because we have heard that some sites are, you know, providing results in batches. So, you know, maybe they didn't provide results after a couple of days. So a batch comes through, so that sends the daily test total way up. But the goal that they're trying to hit, it's 49, 54,950. Cause that would be, um, a certain metric that they told the state that they would be hitting and they're getting right around there and they're continuing to get higher and higher every single day. They still want to meet 5,200 every single day. They said they would do it around early June and they're they're getting there, but the challenges are still those old supply line challenges we've heard in the past, specifically on reagents.

Speaker 1: 12:43 And over the past few weeks, the protests of police brutality have generated big crowds as the County closely watching this lack of social distancing in these crowds, how it might affect the progress that we've made so far with COVID-19

Speaker 4: 12:57 right. Yeah. They are really closely paying attention to kind of, you know, two weeks out from when the demonstration started happening, which is the incubation period for this illness, you know, after about two weeks after the exposure is when you should see symptoms. And so they're paying attention, are we seeing more people testing positive? And then from that, are we seeing more people, you know, become hospitalized? And so they're making sure that when they do get positive cases, they're asking people to contact racing, they're asking people if they were involved in these demonstrations. And so that way they can start to trace it back and see if it was connected to, you know, these kinds of mass gatherings so far, they said that they haven't seen that, but it is really early in, in, you know, in, in that period of time. So they're monitoring it so far, not yet, but they're still a little cautious and they're encouraging people.

Speaker 4: 13:46 If you have been at a demonstration, you know, look back to how long it's been and consider getting a test. But they also say, even if you did test negative for that one point in time, that just means that day, you know, you didn't have enough of the virus in your system to desk positive. So also consider getting another test later. But I will say that, you know, we did have a demonstrations back in April, they were smaller, but we did have demonstrations against the stay home orders. We saw a lot less, a lot fewer people wearing masks. Um, and in these demonstrations I've been out there, I've seen a lot of people wearing masks on some of the invites to these demonstrations. They've been encouraging masks. There are people in the crowd handing out sanitizer. Um, so it's definitely mass gatherings, not socially distancing by six feet by any means, but they're doing what they can to, to prevent any, any further spread

Speaker 1: 14:33 mass and mask gathering. Since we're talking about here and you're the KPBS health reporter, but all of us have been called on to cover these protests. What are your general takeaways to what you've seen out there? What's uh, what's it been like covering two major stories simultaneously,

Speaker 4: 14:50 you know, been interesting being at these demonstrations, you know, early on, um, we saw, you know, some, some things turned violent, you saw alluding, you saw those fires and, and, you know, within days from that, I days after the Lamesa demonstration, I went to a demonstration that were, I think the crowds think, I said it was like thousands of people that were marching around North park and through Balboa park. And what was so fascinating is that it was literally teenagers that were leading that. And I have seen those scenes, I mean, 18 year old, 19 year old, 23 year old, a college student, they were leading this and I've seen those same leaders at later demonstrations. And they very, very specifically laid down certain ground rules to not have those violent, uh, violent incidents take place. And they were encouraging people to be respectful of anyone that they encountered ref referencing the homeless, you know, to, to be respectful of the earth and to not litter.

Speaker 4: 15:46 I literally saw a leader with a megaphone yell at somebody for dropping what was a piece of paper, encouraging them to pick it up. Um, they've also encouraged people to not put themselves in situations and not engage in certain situations with the police that could lead to some sort of response on either side when that March that went through a park and it was a thousands, they marched all the way to downtown headquarters, downtown police headquarters. And when they arrived, there was a lot of police there and police had said it was cause they didn't want to see what happened at SDPD, what had happened in Lamesa. But instead of the crowd going to the police, they stayed a block away and encouraged everyone to remain far away to never put themselves in a position where there would be any sort of reaction from either side.

Speaker 4: 16:29 So it's been really interesting to see young people work together to make some specific, some specific rules that prevented it ever taking away from their main message, which is, which is they want, they, you know, they want racial justice and they want to continue to, to have that heard and not beat and not have the violence that we saw earlier. Be the takeaway from that. So that's, what's been most fascinating to me. And in, as I mentioned earlier, the, the emphasis on, uh, protection, the pandemic they're wearing masks, um, there's a group of nurses that go out and, and follow with these groups and they hand out masks they're providing hand sanitizer. Um, so it's, it's been interesting the last week and a half that I've been following these two weeks that, um, it's, it's very organized, um, and, and doing their best to make sure that the message is heard, um, and, and nothing else.

Speaker 1: 17:20 Well, it's a fast moving story. Both of them are fast moving stories and then lots of evolution in each to B to B share going forward. I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter, Taren, mento. Thanks very much, Tara. Thanks Mark. Moving now to a story about mistrust and fear of police. It's about how many residents in one of San Diego's most diverse neighborhoods are reluctant to call police to intervene on a problem like homeless individuals, interfering with local businesses. I call business owners and other communities. Don't hesitate to make Maya. Thanks for being here.

Speaker 5: 17:51 Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: 17:53 Well, your story focuses on San Diego's district four. Why is this part of the city significant in the history of police relations locally?

Speaker 5: 18:02 So district four is one of the most diverse communities in the city, probably in the County. Um, it also has a black population of about 15%. So it has one of the highest concentrations of black constituents in the city. Um, and it is a very heavily policed area

Speaker 1: 18:21 and a lot of Hispanic residents there too as well, right?

Speaker 5: 18:24 Yes. Um, Latinos do make up the largest proportion. Um, I think about 40%,

Speaker 1: 18:31 your story starts with the community coming together to think of solutions for the adverse effects homelessness was having on nearby businesses. How does this, uh, illustrate the hesitancy, some have to call the police for help?

Speaker 5: 18:44 So I was at this community meeting when they were discussing this issue and it was really fascinating to me that this sort of debate arose. There were, you know, some of them owners of businesses who were like, we really need to do something about this because it's hurting our business, right. There was a big hesitancy from a lot of people in the room about calling the police for help, which I, I think his blood, many other residents and business owners do when they're trying to deal with, um, homeless individuals outside of their businesses. And it was really interesting because they weren't necessarily worried about, you know, how the police would interact with the homeowner, this population, um, that was part of it, but a really big part of it was also so how additional police presence would impact other people in the neighborhood because it is already, you're very pleased area. And so there were parents there who expressed concerns that, you know, they were worried while their kid was walking to and from Lincoln high that they might get stopped too, just because there's additional please.

Speaker 1: 19:46 And it's something you'd think if you were sitting in a similar community meeting in some other part of San Diego, it wouldn't even occur to you that they would be hesitant to call the police in that situation.

Speaker 5: 19:57 Oh, not at all. I mean, I think there's been plenty of, of stories and documentation about business owners downtown is the best example, um, calling the police to kind of, um, help with homeless enforcement so that it doesn't disrupt their businesses. Okay.

Speaker 1: 20:12 And Maya, you profile several members of the community and their personal stories about when they first had interactions with San Diego police. What were some of the common threads you heard in that?

Speaker 5: 20:23 So one of the things that really struck me as I was speaking to everyone was that everyone's first memories of interacting with police officers happen when they were really young. They all happen when they were minors. And that was very stunning to me. I'm not having growing up in an area like that. Mmm. Yeah. You know, I think that many other communities and many other people, yeah, it was just a, that six year old, 10 year old, 12 year old, 14 year old would get stopped with, by the police for questioning or things like that. That would be, you know, obscene to them.

Speaker 1: 20:59 Right. And one person you spoke with is Tony Wiggins, he described is experienced in seeing a much lighter police presence in wealthier neighborhoods, like the LA Jolla that he was familiar with. How does that anecdotal experience feed into this culture of mistrust?

Speaker 5: 21:15 So I think for a long time, um, maybe many of the people in this community who were getting policed so heavily didn't realize that they were being treated differently than other places. [inaudible], you know, more recently, I think we've seen data and records that have shown that indeed, you know, black, San Diego are disproportionately targeted by police for searches. They are disproportionately victims of officer involved shootings. Um, but I think for him, it was this anecdotal experience of what I thought was normal was not normal in these other places.

Speaker 1: 21:48 Yeah. I must have been an eye opener listening to some of the other folks in the community talking about the same thing for him.

Speaker 5: 21:53 Yeah.

Speaker 1: 21:55 Now the national conversation right now is rooted in the experiences that minority communities have with police. How did current events motivate your decision to do this story?

Speaker 5: 22:06 I mean, as everyone knows, there have been, you know, days and days of protests over, um, the killing of, of George flight in Minneapolis and know included in San Diego. And one of the things I really wanted to do was for all the people who suddenly are very interested in policing is give them a look at how it's happening in some of these communities in our own backyard.

Speaker 1: 22:31 You know, San Diego is one of the pioneer cities in community officer policing and the storefront policing that goes back a couple of decades, at least in San Diego. Uh, you would think that maybe in a community like a district four that we're talking about, they would have a history. There may be some more trust, maybe officers of color, a more assigned to patrol there, but that's not the sense I got from your story.

Speaker 5: 22:54 I mean, that's not the sense that I got from residents.

Speaker 1: 22:57 Yeah. So that the mistrust, as you say, just goes back to childhood forward.

Speaker 5: 23:02 Yeah. And I think, um, one of the things this wasn't in my store, it didn't, didn't make it into my story, but, um, you know, they did draw lines between, you know, there are community officers whose job it is to build rapport with the community, but there are other units like the special operations unit, formerly the gang suppression unit who have a very different job. And they approach people in that community much more aggressively and fairly regularly as well.

Speaker 1: 23:26 Now I wanted to segue to a other big story right now. COVID-19 of course, and the work that you've done on that, and your reporting is focused on South Bay. Is there an explanation for why those communities have a higher number of cases of coronavirus? There,

Speaker 5: 23:41 there are quite a few explanations. I think don't know there's one that is more valid than the other, but one, I think a lot of local leaders in South Bay have made the case that many of their residents are essential workers. And so they have been people who have still been continuing to be out and about when everyone else has been locked in, locked down and working remotely. Uh, and therefore they've been more exposed to the virus.

Speaker 1: 24:09 And I was going to make the point that the proximity to the border of Mexico, Mexico has had a, a different experience than a, the United States in some regards than California. Um, in a lot of the border I know has been restricted and shut down to a large extent, but not entirely, right?

Speaker 5: 24:27 Yes. So what we've been seeing in South Bay hospitals and in hospitals and Imperial County is that many us citizens or us residents who have been living in Baja, California have been crossing over for medical care as they have contracted COVID-19. So their reports is a very high percentages of those hospitals COVID cases having spent time recently in Mexico or being residents, Mexico. Mmm. So that isn't another factor. Um, and then there's also, you know, the zip code that has shown the highest rate of growth that's been far higher than the rest of the County is one that includes OTI Mesa. And of course the OTA Mesa immigration detention center has had a huge outbreak. Um, and all of those cases are counted in that zip code as well. So there's a few different reasons why those numbers are different than the rest of the County.

Speaker 1: 25:19 Right. And as you say, a South Bay has really seen a higher incidence than many other parts of San Diego County.

Speaker 5: 25:25 Yeah. I'm not even sure. Um, if they're curve is flattening in the same way as overall County,

Speaker 1: 25:30 I've been speaking with Maya, Sri, Christian and reporter for voice of San Diego. Thanks Maya for joining us.

Speaker 5: 25:36 Thanks for having me

Speaker 1: 25:37 that wraps up another week of stories on the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Claire Tresor of KPBS news, my Sri Krishnan, the voice of San Diego and Taryn mento also of KPBS. A reminder. All the stories we discussed today are available on our website, I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for being with us today and join us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.