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Kolender Defends Police, Calls Charges ‘Overblown’

Times Staff Writer

San Diego police officers have been accused of being both too tough and too soft, but they are neither, Police Chief William Kolender said Friday.

Kolender said his officers are “honest, effective and community-oriented.” The department’s problems in minority communities, he said, have been overblown.

“We are not naive,” Kolender said in a speech to the San Diego chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. “We know that racism and discrimination exist in this society. Our officers, all 1,400 of them, are drawn from that society.”

But, Kolender said, his officers know that bad behavior won’t be tolerated.

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“Does it happen?” he asked rhetorically. “You bet it does. But when it does, we are quick to discipline, through corrective action, punishment or even prosecution.”

Kolender was reacting to recent reports that the department has adopted a “get tough” policy in an attempt to change its image as a laid-back organization more concerned with public relations than fighting crime.

The department’s relationship with the black community has deteriorated since March 31, when officer Thomas E. Riggs was shot to death in Southeast San Diego. Some witnesses to the incident have said that Riggs’ accused killer, Sagon Penn, was provoked by policeman Donovan J. Jacobs during a traffic stop and was beaten by Riggs and Jacobs.

Kolender said he agreed with some of the criticism leveled at his department during a recent community meeting at Lincoln High School. But he said the meeting was also punctuated by “blatantly dishonest rhetoric, the kind that’s calculated to inflame and polarize relations between white cops and black citizens.”

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The news media, Kolender added, have done their part to sour that relationship.

“What I’m seeing, and this is both sad and scary, is fiction masquerading as journalism,” Kolender said. “I’ve read with total disbelief a couple of articles in the last month in which a reporter literally manufactured the news.”

Asked to identify the newspaper and stories he referred to, Kolender declined to elaborate.

“They (the media) say that policemen are bad and don’t say which ones,” Kolender said after the speech. “That’s all I want to say.”

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Kolender again criticized the idea of a permanent citizens’ review board to oversee police operations.

“We need citizen involvement . . . and criticism,” Kolender said. “That keeps us honest. But I draw the line at giving over to any citizen or citizens group the right to set policy, ‘try’ police officers or make personnel assignments. I’m responsible for these things. Take away my authority and you effectively relieve me of the responsibility for effective management of the San Diego Police Department.”


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