Police Review Board Demanded

Times Staff Writer

Southeast San Diego residents, dissatisfied with a City Council plan to establish a police-community relations panel, recommended Thursday night that a citizens’ review board independently investigate police misconduct.

At an emotional meeting at Lincoln High School attended by an estimated 500 people, review board advocates said they would seek a petition drive to have the issue placed before San Diego voters, possibly as early as November.

“Historically, I’ve been opposed to review boards because they were always after the fact,” said Vernon Sukumu, a longtime black activist who is helping organize the effort. “Maybe it’s time for a new forum.”

Sukumu said the review board as he envisions it might issue non-binding but influential decisions on the propriety of individual police actions, much like the San Diego County Grand Jury’s periodic review of government functions.


“Maybe it would have subpoena power, I don’t know yet,” Sukumu said of the proposed review board.

Sukumu is a member of the Committee on Police Excellence, a 15-member body formed after the March 31 shooting death of San Diego Officer Thomas E. Riggs.

Many Southest area residents, particularly blacks, have complained that community relations with street officers have deteriorated since the Riggs shooting.

Some witnesses to the incident have alleged that Riggs’ accused killer, Sagon Penn, was provoked by policeman Donovan J. Jacobs during a traffic stop, and was beaten by Riggs and Jacobs. Penn, a 23-year-old black man, allegedly grabbed Jacobs’ holstered revolver during that incident and wounded Jacobs, killed Riggs and wounded a civilian ride-along, Sarah Pina-Ruiz.


Penn later voluntarily surrendered at police headquarters.

Complaints of police misconduct and brutality soared after Riggs’ death, according to officials of the San Diego Urban League. The strain between the Police Department and the community became evident at a May 30 meeting at Lincoln High School, where dozens of Southeast residents angrily recounted instances of harsh and often unwarranted treatment by patrol officers.

On Wednesday, a City Council committee unanimously approved plans to create a 15-member police advisory panel made up primarily of private citizens. The purpose of the panel, as conceived by Councilman William Jones, would be to improve communications between the community and the Police Department.

The panel Jones proposed would have little authority over departmental matters.


Jones, who was at Thursday night’s meeting along with Police Chief Bill Kolender, said he believes that the city’s civil service commission might be better utilized to investigate complaints against police officers--a function now reserved exclusively for the Police Department.

But those in favor of a separate and powerful police review board appeared little appeased. Some held signs aloft arguing that “Police Cannot Police Themselves.”

One speaker, a high school classmate of Jones, chastised Jones’ past support of the Police Department, ridiculing the councilman’s endorsement of a plan approved by the City Council that would expand the police department.

Jones has said he does not support a review board. Nor does Kolender, who has labeled them potential kangaroo courts.