At Police Chief Bob Burgreen’s direction, the San Diego Police Department has established an investigative unit that will examine allegations of police corruption.
Police administrators insist that the new unit, which includes a captain and five detectives, was not created in response to any existing problem in the department but to prevent violations that may surface.
“Designing and building the unit is part of the preventive steps we are taking to keep all of our employees up to the highest standards of personal and professional ethics,” Assistant Chief Norm Stamper said.
Until now, internal affairs investigators have been responsible for examining possible ethics violations.
But, after a review of problems that have surfaced in other departments, notably the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Burgreen said he wanted a separate division here, which is being called the Professional Standards Unit.
Internal affairs investigators will continue to concentrate on complaints against officers from outside the department. Training the 1,850-member police force to avoid the temptations of wrongdoing will be a primary mission of the new unit, according to Cmdr. Bob Thorburn.
Specifically, the unit will address everyday problems officers face, such as dealing with money confiscated in drug raids or handling prostitutes who work as police informants.
“How do you deal with situations when you are confronted with large sums of money after you stop dope dealers?” Thorburn said. “What if your partner is doing something? We will be talking to all our officers about what Chief Burgreen’s expectations are.”
Creation of the new unit comes after an extensive review by members of an internal police ethics committee, which determined that police officers were not getting any ethics training once they graduated from the Police Academy.
Burgreen personally ordered a corruption unit separate from internal affairs, officials said, and the ethics committee agreed with his recommendation. The committee has made other suggestions regarding the department, including department-wide mandatory drug testing.
The disclosure that Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies participated in a money-skimming scheme two years ago, for which seven went to jail, and, more recently, the brutal beating by Los Angeles police officers of Rodney G. King, make it all the more necessary that ethics be stressed, Stamper said.
“What really iced it for us was the situation with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “If that can happen to a West Coast law enforcement agency with such a significant number of officers involved, then it can happen just about anywhere. Given the vulnerabilities of our officers in the street and the obscene amount of drug money out there, we are doing the prudent thing.”
The San Diego Police Department has not been immune to allegations of corruption. One branch of a special task force looking into the murders of 44 prostitutes and transients killed since 1985 has been investigating the instances in which police officers had sexual relationships with prostitutes.
Capt. Doug Price, who will be in charge of the ethics unit, said his officers will divide their time between corruption-prevention training and internal investigations.
Initially, training will be limited to department supervisors--at the rank of sergeant and higher--but eventually will spread to patrol officers and others, he said.
With the proper training, Price said, the department might be able to keep an officer from becoming corrupt. Part of the training will include a synopsis of what went wrong in other departments across the country and how it could have been prevented.
“We don’t want to let an officer go beyond redemption,” he said. “We want to know what the indicators (of corruption) are and when someone should have known and intervened. There are signs of this happening that people have to be aware of.”
A number of police departments, including those in Los Angeles, Miami and New York, already have established anti-corruption units, Price said.
Harry O. Eastus, president of the Police Officers Assn., which represents most of the San Diego Police Department, said he hopes the unit “doesn’t turn into a KGB operation. If it does something good, I’m all for it. But I’m not interested in having a secret police outfit looking over their shoulders.”
Eastus said he is in favor of “anything that will keep a bad cop off the street.”
In the meantime, Stamper is in the midst of a lengthy department audit that is designed to test whether police policies are being carried out and whether its structure is sound. Part of the review includes the problems associated with having seven levels of management between the chief and the patrol officers.