Disbanding or defunding the San Diego Police Department would be a terrible mistake for our city.
I’m fully cognizant of the national debate over systemic racism and inappropriate use of force by police departments, and of specific complaints about the performance of our own department.
That’s why I was an early supporter of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s legislation to reform use-of-force guidelines, and of the proposed ballot measure to establish an independent citizens’ police review board with powers to subpoena evidence of misconduct and conduct its own investigations.
But San Diegans deserve effective public safety services. Eliminating or defunding the Police Department won’t accomplish that.
I’m painfully aware that not all our residents, particularly African Americans and Latinos, trust the police to protect rather than harass their families. But they are as vulnerable or more vulnerable to the impacts of crime and violence as others in our community, and every San Diego family deserves protection from those impacts.
Despite complaints, problem officers are rarely disciplined or fired. Prosecutors, police leadership and politicians have resisted full transparency and accountability. It’s not a coincidence that my opponent for mayor avoided making a commitment on Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s use-of force legislation until police unions successfully watered down the language of her bill, or that he wouldn’t commit to support the November ballot measure to create independent citizens’ oversight until the police union signed off on it. Despite high-profile misconduct incidents, my opponent denied that the Police Department had a systemic problem. Through their endorsements and campaign contributions, the police union is a powerful political force. They have resisted release of body camera videos, defended officers who have abused their authority, and opposed effective citizen oversight.
The challenge we face is to transform the way we deliver public safety services so we truly protect and serve all of our residents. Disbanding or defunding the Police Department won’t accomplish that objective. In fact, it will move us in the opposite direction.
Here’s what we can and should do to accomplish that transformation:
- Revitalize community-oriented policing — an approach that embeds officers in a neighborhood, encourages officers to get out of their patrol cars and get to know and collaborate with residents, and encourages a proactive approach to neighborhood problem-solving. San Diego successfully pioneered this approach but has retreated from it in recent years because it requires more officers and more training and is more expensive.
- Recruit officers who are committed to the community-oriented policing approach — who live in and are a part of the communities they serve — then give them the training and support they need to deal with the complicated problems neighborhoods face.
- Work with a police chief who is committed to a community-oriented policing approach.
- Acknowledge that we’ve asked officers to take on issues — from mental health and substance abuse to homelessness and truancy — that go far beyond traditional law enforcement responsibilities. We need to invest in counselors, social workers and others who can support the work of police officers and free them to focus on their primary responsibilities.
- Continue to collect and release data on police conduct so we can assess their performance. A San Diego State University study documented racial profiling in traffic stops. A more recent ACLU Campaign Zero Report found that San Diego police stop Black people at a rate 219 percent higher than white people. We need to be conscientious about collecting, analyzing and releasing such data on a regular basis.
- Support Councilwoman Monica Montgomery’s proposal for an Office on Race and Equity with the mission of healing race relations in our city.
- Pursue the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms, including a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds, enforce de-escalation policies, require a warning, and exhaust alternatives before shooting, and establish a duty to intervene by officers if another officer is violating use-of-force guidelines.
Police officers have a very tough job. They deserve our respect and support when they discharge their responsibilities professionally and ethically. They deserve the resources and training necessary to do their jobs well. And they deserve compensation commensurate with the challenges and risks that go with those jobs.
But elected officials have an obligation to demand that they protect and serve all residents and are prepared to hold them accountable when they fail to do that.