Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Future Of Policing

 March 4, 2021 at 12:49 PM PST

Khalid Alexander (00:02): I think the bigger issue that's bubbling under the surface of police and community relations is the daily disrespect and the daily harassment that has just become a part of life of living in communities like Southeast San Diego. If you go to any barbershop and you ask people, have you been harassed by police? Have you been racially profiled? It's like, it's not even a question worth asking because everybody has everybody has experienced it. It's absolutely necessary that we kind of, re-imagined kind of the positioning of police in our communities, what they're allowed to get away with and what they're not allowed to get away with. Andrew Bracken (00:44): In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May of 2020 black lives matter protests swept across the nation in the world with them came serious conversations on what the role of police in society should be, particularly when it comes to people of color KPBS. Along with the national conflict resolution center held a community conversation on the future of policing in July of 2020, which was hosted by KPBS investigative reporter, Claire Trageser. Andrew Bracken (01:16): Welcome to San Diego conversations, the collaboration between KPBS and the national conflict resolution center covering important issues affecting the San Diego region. I'm Andrew Bracken. After the break, we'll take a look back at the event and at where things are today. Andrew Bracken (01:47): The original event on the future of policing took place on July 13th, 2020, one of the three panelists from the event was Monica Montgomery step, the San Diego city council member representing district four in Southeast San Diego. Monica Montgomery Steppe (02:01): My work is to change policy, but also to change hearts, to change minds, to change how we interact with each other. Just generally speaking, I can put all the policies in the world on paper and we can get them passed. But if, uh, interactions do not change, it really doesn't matter if we reward the same behavior, even though those policies are there, then it won't matter. And so we need to do all of those things, Andrew Bracken (02:24): Khlaid Alexander, whom we heard at the start of the episode is the founder and president of pillars of the community, an organization in Southeast San Diego, committed to criminal justice reform. Khalid Alexander (02:34): If I was going to say that, you know, what needs to be done? I mean, first of all, there needs to be an acknowledgement that racial profiling even exists. How can we even begin to have a conversation if our humanity and our ability to say, Hey, we're being victimized here. Isn't even recognized by the people who are perpetrating that violence. Jack Schaeffer (02:54): I think if we're not striving to get better, we're going to end up falling behind. Andrew Bracken (02:58): Jack Schaeffer is president of the San Diego police officer's association, the union that represents San Diego police officers and has been with the department for over 30 years. Jack Schaeffer (03:08): I feel fortunate to be a member of San Diego police department because we have been pretty progressive in doing a lot of things, probably leading the country in a lot of things, but that doesn't mean that we're by any means. Perfect. And we do have a lot of work to do. And I think having some of these discussions can lead to some of those revelations that might lead to maybe the next best way of doing things. Andrew Bracken (03:30): Following up with the panelists. Recently, we wanted to gauge where they felt things were since the event last summer here's Councilmember Montgomery Steppe. Monica Montgomery Steppe (03:39): What I am always going to stand for and talk about is accountability, transparency, oversight equity in law enforcement. How we enforce the law. Are we over policing in some areas under policing and others? Do we treat everyone the same? Do we have a lens for decriminalization or the opposite? Those are the things that I am going to continue to talk about. I stated then that I, you know, I do believe in a law enforcement function, but I believe that there are our, it is to some of our issues around public safety in our targeted communities. Andrew Bracken (04:19): One significant change since the event has been the passage of measure B, which creates an independent police review board to investigate police misconduct. The measure passed overwhelmingly with 75% of voters supporting it because the commission is just in its infancy. It will take time to see what impact it will have. Council member Montgomery step on the current status of the commission. Monica Montgomery Steppe (04:43): So since it passed, we have had our ad hoc committee of the current board or the interim commission along with community groups, such as San Diego homes for justice women occupied mid city, can that have hosted community town halls to get input on what our community members would like to see in the implementation ordinance. Community members had a lot of good feedback about how they want to see the makeup of the commission and that included having youth seats on the commission. It included having more people serve as commissioners that have had intrusive interactions with officers, and I've had that experience. And it's very, very important that we use this as an additional opportunity to continue to build trust between community members and law enforcement. That has been a goal from the very beginning and the more we are able to listen to community members and incorporate their ideas into the policy that we push forward, the better off I think we will be. Andrew Bracken (06:07): Following up with Jack Schaeffer recently, he reflected on how he feels poor perceptions of police can have an adverse effect on the relationship between them and people in the community. Jack Schaeffer (06:18): What I feel like sometimes in some of these conversations is that the story is being put out there to where people have this picture of us doing the job so poorly all the time, and really having malice in our minds. And I can tell you this as somebody who's done this job for so long people don't go to work, wanting to hurt people. I mean, if they do, they shouldn't be cops. You know, you go, you go to work to do certain, to get things done, to help keep people safe. Um, now sometimes we have to use force, but again, it's pretty rare. It's not, it's not very often. Um, and we'd like to get those numbers down, but the pictures that they paint sometimes I think make people more, you know, less likely to cooperate with us, which then brings up the potential of force. Jack Schaeffer (07:03): When things happen, we need to handle them. And when, and when there's some cop that's out there, that's not, not a, not a cop that should be out there. That person should be handled and taken and not doing this job or doing something else. I think that the bigger picture, we're a part of a bigger problem with societal issues that I think we need to address. There are some things in my profession that that definitely can be better, but we're definitely not the only thing that to point a finger at. You have to look at more than that. You know, we do things right almost all the time. Unfortunately, when we do things wrong, it's everywhere. Um, and it can, and it can have a really big impact on, on individuals lives and on communities. Andrew Bracken (08:00): One topic that came up was about police training and how improving training on deescalation techniques specifically might help in reducing violent interactions between police and the community. It serves. Jack Schaeffer (08:11): The deescalation was mentioned in our policies many, many times for years, but to emphasize it and make, give it its own policy, that this is what deescalation is, and this is how you use it. I think what that does is it kind of tells the officer, this is something that is very important. Um, the escalation is something that in order to be good at this job, you have to be able to utilize it. I mean, you have to be able to go to something where the emotions are here and try to bring them down to here. So you can actually have a conversation. But I think emphasizing it makes people maybe pay more attention it and maybe try to get better at it. Um, and maybe, um, also evaluate new cops based on how they deescalate things. Khalid Alexander (09:14): For Khalid Alexander, improving police training is far from enough. He finds the issues and policing to be more foundational. It feels we need to completely rethink our approach to law enforcement Khalid Alexander (09:25): The culture itself of policing is so rotten that no matter how good the training is, no matter how well-intentioned. And I believe that most line enforcement are probably well-intentioned when they go into it. But because once you get into a department we're pulling black and Brown people over is prioritized where you're looked at as a tougher, stronger cop. If you're a part of the gang suppression unit where you get stripes and credibility for serving in poor neighborhoods like Southeast San Diego and Logan, because that culture is so strong, no matter how good the training and no matter how good their hearts are, it's very difficult to kind of come up with commonalities that are going to help move policing away from what it is today. Unless we create new institutions, I think is going to be very, very difficult to change that culture that is so embedded in policing. Khalid Alexander (10:14): And I don't mean that to diminish any of the changes that people are fighting for on the outside. I'm all in favor, a positive change, no matter how small it is, that's heading in the right direction. But for me, the right direction is creating an entirely new system that is really there to protect and serve the community in a lot of ways, defunding the police and abolishing the police can be seen as kind of semantics. And so in that sense, I'm not as much caught up over the words as I am with the intention behind them. And the intention behind both of those are envisioning a world and imagining in a world where you don't have to have armed people who are responsible for addressing every societal ill that is out there. Andrew Bracken (11:05): So are there any areas where the two sides might agree? We take a look after the break, Jack Schaeffer (11:23): We get a lot of stuff. Us police officers get a lot of stuff thrown on our labs, things that aren't necessarily what we're best at Andrew Bracken (11:31): During the event in July of 2020 Jack Schaeffer raised two issues where there may be room for agreement. And that had to do with how police are involved in mental illness cases, as well as the homeless in San Diego. Jack Schaeffer (11:44): Part of that is like, there's just been a huge homelessness problem, mental health, you know, problems within San Diego, that there are probably other people that could probably do as good or better of a job, Jack Schaeffer (11:54): But it seems like whenever there's something going on in society, it always ends up being given to the police officers. And I think some of that should be diverted to people that might be like in social workers or clinicians and things like that for, for special issues. Andrew Bracken (12:08): Councilmember Montgomery Steppe also sees potential for change in the policing of those suffering from mental illness. Monica Montgomery Steppe (12:14): I think there's room for agreement when it comes to how we are policing our folks that have mental health breakdowns or issues. I think the police officers that I've spoken to would agree that those calls they don't necessarily want to go to not because they don't care, but there's a lot of training involved in dealing with those types of breakdowns. So I think we can all agree that that is a function that we can explore alternatives. That is the sentiment that I receive from all sides of the aisle. I think that's a good place to start. Jack Schaeffer (12:54): We get called basically when people are at a really emotional boiling point Andrew Bracken (12:59): Again, here's Jack Schaeffer. Jack Schaeffer (13:02): We have clinicians, which are very helpful. Um, it would be nice to have more of that. And the other thing that would be really nice to have in, in San Diego County is facilities where we can actually get people to help that they need, and they don't get turned away. We don't have enough available beds. Let's say we've had the same County mental health facility over, over there by the sports arena for years. And I don't know of too many other places like that. So I think a little bit more investment needs to be made probably by the County to have some places where we can actually handle some of these or get them the help that they need when they need the help. Um, and maybe they won't get to that, to that really super volatile state. I think that's going to have a very big impact on not just the way we serve the people in those groups, but the way we serve everybody. Jack Schaeffer (13:51): And I don't think we're as well equipped to deal with some of the issues as maybe, um, some civilian personnel who that's, that's where they're a hundred percent of their mindset has been as far as, as far as the professional careers. But I think there's a lot of problems in society that we can just take a different approach to it. And it'll probably serve everybody much better. Andrew Bracken (14:47): For Khalid Alexander, the focus still needs to be on how communities color are being policed. One specific issue he brought up during the event was the policy of pre-textual stops. Khalid Alexander (14:56): My understanding is black people are, I think it's up to three times more likely to be pulled over by pretextual stops. So that's for example, saying, Oh, you didn't change lanes or you didn't, uh, you have, uh, a light off in the back. Um, and then in the process of that stop, what they do is they try to become more intrusive, um, into the individual's personal life. They'll ask to search the car, they'll ask where you're going. They'll ask a number of different questions, which African Americans are less likely to actually have a crime that has actually been committed from those pretextual stops. So yeah, I mean, one of our demands is all pretextual stops immediately end. Andrew Bracken (15:32): Again, Jack Schafer. Jack Schaeffer (15:34): Let's be clear because a lot of times people mix it up with racial profiling. Okay. It's, you know, I'm part of the cab commission and I had people talking about it, like it was stopping somebody for being a race, you know, stopping somebody for being black. That's not a pretext stop that's racism, if that is happening, that shouldn't be happening. And then that needs to be taken care of. Khalid Alexander (15:53): If police were to treat community members in the Hoya community members in Coronado, community members in Tierra Santa, the same way that they treat community members and district four. And in Southeast San Diego, there's no way they would get away with it. It's even inconceivable that they would pull over somebody in the Hoya and hassle them for 30 minutes to an hour, uh, because they looked suspicious unless that person happened to be black and looked like they came from Southeast San Diego. Andrew Bracken (16:23): It's clear that Khlaid Alexander, Sergeant Jack Schafer and Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe each have distinct visions of how they see the future of policing. Khalid Alexander (16:33): We have to figure out ways to make it so that police are held accountable outside of their structures, right? To make it difficult for police to harass so that they can no longer get away with treating some communities different than they treat other communities. Jack Schaeffer (16:47): We have to have a balance. We have to be able to keep a community safe, but we have to do so without, you know, while making, while making people feel safe with us and all that stuff and doing it the right way. So I think that there needs to be oversight. I think there needs to be people pointing out things that we're doing wrong. Um, but not every idea is a, is a really good idea. I think you need to pull yourself away from it sometimes and look at like, what would happen? What would the negative things that happen? Say we, we, we went forward with some of the ideas that we were hearing at that time. Monica Montgomery Steppe (17:17): I do believe that folks are reexamining and re-imagining what public safety is and what it looks like and exploring if there are alternatives that can, you know, continue to keep us safe while promoting and supporting community members. So I think that it's an evolution. I think that sometimes it's slow and sometimes it is a little faster, but we are re-imagining and that's a good thing. Monica Montgomery Steppe (17:52): I remain hopeful. I think that's all that I can be right now. There, there are many different things going on in our city and our state and our nation and in the world. And so I hold onto hope. And I think that the more we educate ourselves, talk to each other, express our differences and concerns. You know, the better off we will be. Andrew Bracken (18:24): You can watch the original event on the future of policing in its entirety at conversations. You can also view public meetings of the commission on police practices on the city of San Diego public meetings, YouTube account San Diego conversations is a collaboration between KPBS and the national conflict resolution center. You can visit our website at Diego conversations. This program is produced by me, Andrew Bracken for KPBS. Linda Ball and Trisha Richter are coordinators. Claire Trageser is an investigative reporter with KPBS and hosted the original event. Emily Kankowski's technical director, Kinsey Morlan is podcast coordinator, Lisa Jane Morrissete is operations manager, and John Decker is director of programming. Thanks also to Ashley McGuire from the national conflict resolution center. We hope you'll join us for our next San Diego conversation.

In the wake of the 2020 killing of George Floyd, activists marched and called for police reform in cities around the nation — San Diego included. The city implemented several reforms that summer, however, community members said the changes did not go far enough. Has anything changed more than seven months later? Find out in today's episode of "San Diego Conversations."