Proposal for ‘Police Abuse’ Review Upsets Chief, POA
San Diego City Councilman William Jones unveiled a sweeping set of proposals Wednesday to “eliminate police abuse and restore the faith of the community in what has been one of the finest police departments in the nation.”
The proposals call for a citizen-Police Department task force and City Council adjudication of allegations against police officers. Police Chief Bill Kolender and the San Diego Police Officers Assn. (POA) immediately rejected the idea of City Council involvement in police personnel matters.
Kolender offered support for the task force concept but criticized Jones for “fanning the fires” that have led to recent tensions.
Jones’ proposals have two cornerstones:
- The creation of a 15-member task force made up of citizens and Police Department representatives who would make recommendations on improving relations between the Police Department and the community. The task force would be appointed by Mayor Roger Hedgecock and ratified by the City Council.
- Adjudication in closed session by the City Council and City Manager Ray Blair of about 12 allegations against police officers collected by the 4th District councilman. In addition, Jones said other councilmen could submit any allegations against police brought by their constituents.
Kolender and Ty Reid, president of the POA, said they would seek to block any effort by the council to become involved in citizen complaints against police officers. They said that any move to discipline officers outside the department’s internal affairs procedures would be “patently illegal.”
Kolender, although clearly perturbed by the strong language used by Jones in unveiling his proposal, said he would “support and participate in any task force that might improve police-community relations.”
Reid, however, said the police officers’ union would seek an immediate court injunction aimed at preventing formation of the task force.
“Under no circumstances can we go along with this,” Reid said. “It looks like the creation of a police review board to me, and we will block that because it runs against the city’s charter. What I see is a hidden agenda of secret trials of police officers--that seems to be the true goal and objective of this proposed task force.”
The union president also characterized Jones’ proposals as an “overreaction to the problems we’ve had recently.”
Kolender said he would seek a legal opinion from City Atty. John Witt on the involvement of the council and city manager in complaints against police. “William Jones has always been a friend and supporter of the Police Department,” Kolender said, “but I doubt if he knows the legal ramifications of his proposals.”
Jones said he hoped the council’s Public Services and Safety Committee would hear his proposals in two weeks, and predicted approval by the full council and nomination of task force members within 30 days.
“We are the policy-makers,” he said in defending his position that the council should become involved in the allegations against the officers. “The buck stops with us.”
Last week, more than 400 people attended a stormy public meeting at Lincoln High School in Southeast San Diego to air allegations of brutality involving the city’s police officers. Jones, whose district encompasses that area, was the only council member to attend.
Two widely publicized events, one leading to the shooting death of a police officer, the second to the fatal shooting by police of a 21-year-old UC San Diego student, catalyzed the recent police controversies.
The first was the March 31 shooting of two police officers and a citizen participating in the department’s ride-along program. Sagon Penn, 23, has been charged with slaying Officer Thomas Riggs and attempting to kill Officer Donovan J. Jacobs and Sarah Pina-Ruiz, the ride-along. But witnesses have said Jacobs, who stopped Penn’s truck, provoked the attack.
In the second incident, Wayne Douglas Holden wielded a knife as he ran through a quiet San Carlos neighborhood in the early morning hours of May 28, with as many as 15 police officers in pursuit. After Holden crashed through the window of a neighborhood house, he was shot six times by police and died shortly thereafter.
Relatives of Penn and Holden appeared at the Lincoln High School meeting and harshly criticized the actions of the police.
Jones said he hopes to have the council and Blair investigate about 12 other incidents involving allegations against an undisclosed number of officers. In addition, the task force would suggest methods of improving police-community relations, study the current processes for investigating allegations against officers, and review the procedures used to hire and recruit new officers.
“Recent events have created tension between the Police Department and some members of our community,” Jones said. “Some citizens who once thought of the police as partners in their fight against crime are now faced with a growing fear of harassment and disrespect from police officers.”
Kolender said the department sensed “no animosity on the part of the people in Southeast” and said there was “no evidence of any abuse by our officers.”
He said the department’s internal investigations of allegations against police officers “are handled in an extremely professional manner.” Citing Police Department statistics, Kolender said citizen complaints were down 20% so far this year from 1984 (57 compared to 39 monthly), and said about 20% of the cases brought against officers had been upheld during the last 18 months.