Eligibility Widened for Police Panel : Local Activists Sought for Review Board in Quest for Ethnic Balance

Times Staff Writer

City Manager John Lockwood on Monday announced that he is revising the composition of a widely criticized panel of "consultants" that will review internal police investigations into complaints of officer misconduct in the hope of balancing the panel with blacks and Latinos.

Lockwood, who first unveiled his proposal less than a month ago, said he has decided to expand the pool of applicants for the controversial board to include community activists as well as the former judges, grand jurors and civil service commissioners initially invited to serve.

"From the very start, I indicated that I wanted to have (an ethnic) balance among the 12 (review board) members, and so we began by soliciting from the three groups," Lockwood said. "Now it's obvious that in order to have that balance we're going to have to augment those three groups with some additional nominees."

George Penn, an aide to the city manager, said that as of late last week, the 57 responses received from the 146 prospective review board members contacted include only one Latino and no blacks. The respondents are "mostly white males over 70" and also are not "geographically representative" of San Diego, Penn said.

No Special Qualifications

"Clearly, we needed some additional people to pick from in order to have a good mixed group on the panel," Penn said. "So we are asking community relations groups with a history of interest in this issue to give us two or three recommendations, whose names will be included in the pool."

Penn said that those interested in a spot on the panel need have no special qualifications: "They just need to submit a resume, be over 21 and pass a background check."

Lockwood's decision was applauded Monday by minority leaders and other critics of the review panel, who have questioned its effectiveness and charged that the three groups initially tapped for members were dominated overwhelmingly by elderly white males.

Murray Galinson, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Task Force on Police-Community Relations, called the inclusion of a wider sampling of people in the candidate pool "an excellent move" that will improve the panel's image and credibility in the community.

"It was our original recommendation that the police chief confer with community activists to get names, so I'm obviously very pleased," said Galinson, noting that the task force voiced its strong displeasure with Lockwood's initial plan at its regular meeting earlier this month. "It will increase the possibility of getting qualified people. . . . Now I think we should let the process go forward."

San Diego Police Department officials, meanwhile, said they backed Lockwood's decision to expand the group of potential candidates for the 12-member board and believe it demonstrates that earlier criticism of the panel was unfounded.

"I think this proves that the criticism was premature, that people were criticizing something that just didn't exist," Assistant Police Chief Bob Burgreen said. "We said from day one we would get a representative group, and we intended to do just that. It became obvious last week that the responses we were getting were not representative, so we alerted the city manager and he made his decision."

Public Pressure Discounted

Burgreen said that the decision to expand the pool of candidates "had nothing to do with public pressure." Penn agreed, nothing that while the city manager's office was "sensitive to input from the general public and others," the move was merely "the carrying through of our initial plan."

But the president of the Police Officers Assn., who opposes any civilian involvement in the sensitive officer review process, speculated that Lockwood bowed to protests from the community in looking to a wider circle of candidates for the board.

"He's been under a tremendous amount of pressure, and we were pretty understanding at first, thinking he did the best job under the circumstances," POA President Skip DiCerchio said. "But I find it very surprising that he has been unable to find a good community mix from those three groups, and it's really disappointing to see him modify this thing to the point where we may get a full-blown civilian review board."

DiCerchio said that, while Lockwood's initial proposal "had some kind of logic to it, because he picked people with experience in the law, personnel matters or personnel conduct review," the decision announced Monday is "alarming."

"My question would be, where is it going to stop? If he opens it up to community groups and doesn't get enough people from there to serve on such a panel, then who's next?" DiCerchio said. "I'm just not at all sure these religious leaders or Lord knows who else are qualified to judge police conduct or misconduct. It's just not appropriate."

The city manager's decision last month to form a review panel capped a yearlong debate over whether civilian San Diegans should play a role in overseeing the Police Department's handling of complaints. Under the plan, the 12 consultants will be selected by Police Chief Bill Kolender, making it the only system of its kind that is appointed by a chief of police.

Board members, who will be paid a nominal fee plus expenses, will have no independent review authority or disciplinary proceeding of their own. Instead, they will report periodically to Kolender and make specific suggestions about internal investigations before disciplinary action is taken, Penn said. At least twice a year, they will issue public reports evaluating the department's internal affairs division, its investigative arm.

When he initially unveiled the proposal, Lockwood said he excluded citizens because "to start out with 12 people who have some knowledge and appreciation for the system is going to be a lot better than starting from scratch."

It soon became clear, however, that culling a racially representative panel from the ranks of retired judges, grand jurors and civil service commissioners would not be easy.

Among the groups now being contacted in search of nominees are the National Urban League, the Chicano Federation, the Black Leadership Council, the Catfish Club, Casa Familiar, Barrio Station, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Pan-Asian Assn.

Penn said he does not expect the review panel to be up and running for another two months.

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