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Part 2: Police use-of-force

 July 19, 2022 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Tuesday, July 19th.

Light punishment for police officers

More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

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San Diego Unified has brought back its mask mandate indoors at all school campuses and district offices…as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

Mandatory mask wearing impacts students and teachers in summer school and other enrichment programs.

Richard Barrera is the school board trustee leading the district’s COVID protections and protocols plan.

“When we hit certain thresholds, then we ramp up our safety precautions and I think it has kept students and staff safe.”

The school board has not decided yet whether the indoor mask mandate will continue into the fall semester that starts August 29th.

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The increase in COVID cases in San Diego County has led to mask mandates in other sectors too.

Masks are now required indoors at San Diego military installations, including Naval Base San Diego and Naval Base Coronado.

The new mandate is required for all service members, DOD employees and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

Indoor mask-wearing will be required at San Diego military installations, until the county COVID community level goes back to medium or low.

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We will be feeling summer’s heat this week, as hot and dry weather returns in San Diego County.

Temperatures are expected to rise today (Tuesday) through Friday.

But this week’s heat wave won’t last too long.

Cooler temperatures are expected to come back this weekend.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

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It’s rare for local police officers to be fired or even suspended for shooting people or severely injuring them.

That’s according to a KPBS review of 475 police use-of-force incidents.

Investigative reporter Claire Trageser looks at why it almost never happens.

A warning, this story has graphic descriptions and sounds.

Speaker 1 Sheriff Communications. Dispatcher six, can I help you? Speaker 2 Hi, this is Fox over at PD. I got an RP that's calling actually from Spring Valley and got connected with us on nine one. It's about a suspicious person, possible prowler I got the caller on. At just before 11 p.m. one evening in August 2012, a woman called the Sheriff’s department. Deputy Luke Berhalter and his partner were dispatched to the scene. They walked up to the house, but didn’t identify themselves or call out to the homeowner. Berhalter drew his gun. “My gun was in front of me at a low ready. I don't recall how far my arms were extended. Something pushed down on my gun. Something made contact with my gun. And as that happened, my gun discharged.” This is what Berhalter later told investigators.“As soon as my firearm discharged, I think I said ‘oh shit’ or something like that, I realized there was a person there and that she was still standing but she was leaning. She was bent over at the waist and I think she was holding her abdomen or her arm.” Berhalter had shot the homeowner who called police. The woman was wounded on her chest and arm and was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. The department called Berhalter’s actions “careless and imprudent,” but he was not fired or suspended. He only received a written reprimand to go in his file. The light discipline Berhalter received is a trend, according to a KPBS analysis of 475 police use-of-force incidents involving San Diego County police agencies dating back to 2000. In fact, more than 97% of the time, officers received no discipline whatsoever, the analysis shows. And when officers were disciplined, it was sometimes for actions other than shooting or using force against a suspect. And most of the time they were back on the street after short suspensions, if they were suspended at all. For example, a San Diego Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Klein was disciplined after kicking a man in the face during an arrest. However, his discipline was for failing to document it. And San Diego Police Officer Elliott Simon, who tackled a man and knocked him unconscious, was suspended for one day for failing to turn on his body camera. “How many people are suspended or disciplined in any meaningful way? Not a lot.” DeRay Mckesson is a civil rights activist with Campaign Zero. “Imagine if you had a job where it literally was just impossible to get in trouble, to be held accountable. That's what policing is.” Experts say there are a number of reasons why officers so often escape serious punishment or termination for using force, including the way police policies are written and how investigations are done. But topping the list is the strength of police unions, says San Diego attorney Eugene Iredale. “The power of the police unions, contract negotiations in which disciplinary procedures are negotiated, and the natural tendency of an organization and people to try to protect its own for whatever reason, they get due process plus.” The San Diego Police Officers Association didn’t respond to a request for comment. Police investigations of use of force have historically been done internally within the department. “Way too often you'll have investigating internal affairs officers who have a deep identification with and sympathy for the officer whose conduct is under investigation.” That said, San Diego law enforcement agencies are instituting reforms, especially after protests over police violence swept the country in 2020. The departments announced in April that they'll investigate each other when an officer shoots and kills someone, so the Sheriff’s department will investigate a SDPD shooting and vice versa. Iredale thinks the change will make a big difference. Police use of force expert Travis Norton also welcomes the change, but says departments already did thorough investigations. “I understand that our critics would say, hey, you guys can't police yourselves… In my 24 years, there's not this big thing covering up stuff. We don't want that. We want to maintain legitimacy with our communities. It's so important, especially now.” Some activists have long called on District Attorney Summer Stephan to charge officers for past shootings. But she says there is rarely a reason to do so. “In the time that I've been here, I feel that every single case has received our full attention, our best experience, and that we've tried to provide as transparent of a process as possible. But I think the voices should keep coming. If I lost a loved one to a police officer, I would want more answers and probably would never stop asking them.” CT KPBS News

In a statement, the San Diego Police Department said shootings are incredibly scrutinized, and, quote, “While we are not perfect, time and time again the documents are showing the professionalism and courage of SDPD officers during incredibly dangerous situations.”

To search the KPBS database and see a map of use-of-force incidents, go to kpbs dot org slash police records.

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An emotional plea was made yesterday (Monday), by a relative of a black teenager stabbed in Lakeside three months ago.

Two white teenagers are charged with hate crimes in the stabbing.

KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado has the latest.

Through tears, and backed by social justice advocates, Nichole Streater, a relative of the 16 year old Lakeside stabbing victim, begged the community to ask the District Attorney Summer Stephan for justice. My family and I are pleading for the community to join us and pushing for the district attorney to hold accountable the teenagers and the father for the suffering that they have endured. The victim’s family has been calling for charges against the father of the boy accused in the stabbing. So far, only the teenagers have been charged. Streater claims even though the charges include attempted murder, the teens will get lenient sentences because they are white. We reached out to the District Attorney about Streater’s claim. In a statement, the D-A’s office says they continue to investigate the incident… but the law limits what they can discuss publicly. Kitty Alvarado KPBS News

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Last week , San Diego County was labeled as ‘high-risk’ for COVID by the CDC as transmission continues to rise county-wide.

inewsource reporter Danielle Dawson spoke to experts who are worried about the long-term implications of increased infections.

COVUPDATE 1 :40 SOQ

Post-COVID conditions, or long COVID, have been the subject of growing concern surrounding the impact of a COVID infection. These conditions have been described as ‘debilitating’ and ‘disabling’ by experts, impacting nearly 1 in 5 adults who have previously had the virus according to the CDC. As case numbers continue to rise and reinfection becomes a growing worry, experts are concerned about the potential for increased risk of long COVID since so little is known about what causes it and how to treat it. Earlier waves of the pandemic have seen more cases of individuals with prolonged symptoms than recent ones, but given the virus’s unpredictability, experts say it will be an important thing to monitor moving forward. For KPBS, I’m inewsource reporter Danielle Dawson.

inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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Coming up.... An update on downtown hotel workers considering protesting. We’ll have that story and more, next, just after the break.

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Surveillance technology in San Diego will soon be getting more oversight.

KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen has more on the City Council’s approval of new restrictions.

AB: Privacy advocates have been calling for tighter restrictions on surveillance technology for years. The ordinance requires regular disclosure and approval of surveillance tech used by the city. There's an exemption for local police working in a task force with federal law enforcement. Critics like Jeanine Erikat of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans say that's a massive loophole. JE: Many of us have intersecting identities. As a Muslim woman, this exemption means I'll be surveilled, whether I'm going to my local mosque or seeking an abortion, and I'll never know what technology is being used to track my movement or what task for SDPD is in. AB: The ordinance passed unanimously — along with a request for future amendments to further strengthen civil rights protections. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news.

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Workers at a major downtown hotel may walk off the job this week… right as Comic-Con is getting underway.

KPBS reporter Jacob Aere has an update on the labor dispute.

Negotiations resume Tuesday morning on a new two-year contract for roughly 600 employees at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Bridgette Browning is the president of Unite Here Local 30, representing the hotel workers. “If we don't have a contract done by Wednesday morning, we will pull everybody off the job and we will start protesting.” The Hilton proposed a 50-cent per hour raise last month. KPBS reached out to the hotel for comment, but they didn’t respond in time. Browning says hourly pay for the majority of unionized workers at the Hilton currently ranges from $18 to $21. Unite Here is seeking a $3-an-hour raise per year … over two years. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.

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A lack of affordable housing is often the most significant factor that leads to homelessness.

That’s the conclusion of A new book called, “Homelessness is a Housing Problem.”

It’s written by Clayton Page Aldern and Gregg Colburn.

Colburn joined KPBS’S Jade Hindmon to talk more about the issue.

Your book outlines how a lack of affordable housing can exacerbate homelessness in a given area. How does San Diego fare in that regard?
There’s been a lot of debate among experts and providers over whether housing or treatment needs to come first in order to address homelessness. What does the data say?
Why is there still such a debate over whether housing first or treatment first is the best way to address this issue?

That was Gregg Colburn, co-author of “Homelessness is a Housing Problem,” speaking with KPBS Midday Edition host Jade Hindmon.

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That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

A review of police use-of-force incidents finds that it’s rare for local police officers to be fired or even suspended for shooting people or severely injuring them. Meanwhile, a plea was made by a relative of a black teenager stabbed in Lakeside three months ago. Plus, more oversight to come for Surveillance technology in San Diego.