The San Diego police union is apparently improperly using a confidential list of members of the city’s Neighborhood Watch program as a political mailing list to urge the thousands of community activists to vote against the tougher of two police review panels proposed on the November ballot.
The letters, written on San Diego Police Officers Assn. stationery and signed by president Ronald G. Newman, recommend the defeat of Proposition F and ask for voter support of Proposition G.
The Police Department maintains the master list of members of each of the more than 4,100 individual Neighborhood Watch groups, with each group consisting of the occupants of five or more homes.
And, according to Police Department policy, the list is to be kept strictly confidential, a promise that is made to every Neighborhood Watch representative when he joins the organization.
Cmdr. Calvin Krosch, told by The Times on Tuesday that Neighborhood Watch members have received the political letters from the POA, said the Police Department will begin an internal investigation to determine how the police union obtained the names and addresses.
“If in fact they have tapped into our confidential list of Neighborhood Watch members, it would be a totally unwarranted breach of the members’ individual privacy and a breach of the confidentiality of our records,” he said.
“We’ve had many, many requests over the years for access to that information. But we jealously guard those names. And, if their names become utilized for political purposes, then it totally abrogates the purpose for their existence.”
In an interview Tuesday, Newman at first said he did not know who put together the mailing list for the letters, which were sent over the last two weeks. Then he said he thought a group of “volunteers” came up with the list. But he declined to identify those persons.
He also at first said he saw nothing wrong with the POA sending political letters to Neighborhood Watch members. “I don’t have a problem with Neighborhood Watch people having it,” he said. “Those are all strong law enforcement people.”
Four Members Contacted
But, when he was told that it is against Police Department policy to breach the confidentiality of those names and to use them for political purposes, Newman said he would meet next week with the “volunteers” to determine how the names were obtained.
The Times contacted four Neighborhood Watch members who received copies of the letter. Two members expressed resentment that their privacy had been violated and said they had been assured by the Police Department that their names would be kept in the strictest confidence.
“I’m not very happy about it,” said one man who has worked for 10 years with the program. “I feel our confidentiality has been breached. When you set up rules, you don’t expect them to be broken.”
Added another member: “Neighborhood Watch endorses nothing. We don’t endorse anything political or commercial.”
Another member pointed out that Neighborhood Watch misspells his name on their official roster, and that the same misspelling appeared on the POA envelope that arrived at his home.
Police officials in the department’s Public Affairs unit said the names of new members are added to the master list logged in a special computer housed in the Public Affairs unit on the seventh-floor of police headquarters. They said few officials have access to the computer.
They also said they frequently are approached by politicians and advertisers wanting copies of the mailing list. They said the list is attractive for political use because the Neighborhood Watch members are known as community leaders who often vote and can encourage others to vote for certain issues and candidates.
“That list is gold,” said Matt Weathersby, community relations assistant to the chief. “For political reasons, its invaluable.”
He said the only other time the members’ confidentiality was broken was several years ago. He said a police sergeant who worked in the Crime Prevention unit left the department and went to work for a private company that marketted home-security systems. He said the former sergeant then sent letters to many Neighborhood Watch members, seeking interest in his product.
“We were violated then,” Weathersby said. “And, if it was obtained again (by the POA), then it was through the back door.”
The undated form letter begins “Dear Friend” and says, in part:
“The police officers of the city of San Diego are aware of the support which you have given to effective law enforcement in our community. However, law enforcement and the men and women who are involved in this difficult job are now faced with a new and serious challenge to their effectiveness.”
Statement on TV Ad
The letter then criticizes Proposition F, which would create a police review board that would hold hearings and be strengthened with subpoena powers. And it characterizes Proposition G as “a reasonable and rational alternative.” Proposition G would establish a new review board similar to the one now operating, which does not have those subpoena powers.
“We ask for your help once more,” the letter concludes. “Please consider these propositions carefully and Vote YES on G and NO on F! (emphasis theirs). Please also tell your family and friends about your decision and the importance of these propositions to the future of good government in San Diego.”
In another development related to the election, Police Chief Bob Burgreen is asking voters not to be misled by a recent television ad in which a police officer endorses the U. S. Senate campaign of Leo T. McCarthy.
The ad, which has been aired in San Diego, pictures Officer Vincent Krolikowski offering his reasons why voters should support Lt. Gov. McCarthy for the Senate seat against incumbent Republican Pete Wilson.
Krosch said that Burgreen’s concern was that the ads not be construed by voters that the Police Department also endorses McCarthy’s campaign. He said the chief has reminded all police personnel to refrain from political activity.
Krolikowski could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But Krosch said police interviewed him and learned that the ads were taped out of San Diego and that Krolikowski did not know his name and affiliation would be used in the TV spots.