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San Diego police to undergo federal review amid assault cases

San Diego police to undergo federal review amid assault cases
U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy, front, with San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and Mayor Kevin Faulconer at a news conference Monday announcing a Department of Justice review of the city's Police Department. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to review the management practices of the San Diego Police Department with a goal of helping the department avoid officer misconduct and restore its reputation as an "innovative, progressive, trusted force," officials announced Monday.

The audit comes amid recent allegations that two officers assaulted women while on duty. In the last four years there have been about 15 cases of misconduct of various kinds among the department's 1,856 officers, officials said.

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The review  will take six to eight months to complete and include periodic reports to the public and recommendations to the department about better ways to spot problem officers.

The review was requested by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith, and former chief Bill Lansdowne.

Separately, a "case specific" criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney and FBI will focus on whether other officers have been guilty of misconduct. "Every rock should be turned over," Goldsmith said.

Zimmerman, a 30-year veteran of the department who was named chief three weeks ago, said she is "not going to tolerate this misconduct and betrayal of our badge and profession."

The review will be conducted by the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, headed by Ron Davis, former police chief in East Palo Alto and a 20-year veteran of the Oakland department.

The audit will include a review of the recruitment, training, supervision and Internal Affairs practices of the department, as well as interviews with officers, citizens of San Diego and others,  Davis said.

Lansdowne, 69, chief for more than a decade, retired March 3, the day that Faulconer was sworn in as mayor. At Faulconer's request, Zimmerman was quickly approved by the City Council as his successor.

In 2011, San Diego Officer Anthony Arevalos was convicted of demanding sexual favors from women after making traffic stops. He was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison, although a recent appellate decision might reduce his sentence. He was fired after the accusations were made.

The City Council has approved a total of $2.3 million in payments covering 12 of 13 lawsuits involving women allegedly assaulted by Arevalos. One case is set for trial in federal court.

Linda Workman, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, known only as Jane Doe, said that the study is only a "short-term" review and that its recommendations are not binding.

"This is too little too late for victims like Jane Doe who have had their lives ruined by SDPD misconduct," Workman said. She added that the department did "some voluntary cleanup of this type of misconduct" in the past, but "it obviously did not last."

In 2011, Lansdowne initiated a number of reforms amid about 10 allegations of drunk driving, spousal abuse, rape, stalking and excessive force involving officers. Some of the incidents occurred while the officer was off duty.

Monday's news conference occurred as a former officer appeared in Superior Court court on charges of abusing women while on duty. A second officer has been suspended and is being investigated.

U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy, noting that the department has been "under fire" for recent misconduct cases, said she has spoken to Zimmerman about the new chief's plans to restore the department's once sterling reputation.

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Associate Atty. Gen. Tony West praised Lansdowne and other city officials for seeking the outside review. "When misconduct does occur, it is our collective responsibility to act and to act swiftly to demand accountability and correct the situation," he said.

In his final days as chief, Lansdowne, reacting to current allegations, ordered that whenever a woman is taken into custody, there must be two officers in the police car. Also, the department is testing the use of body cameras for patrol officers to record their dealings with members of the public.

Zimmerman, who was assistant chief under Lansdowne, has begin a series of public Meet the Chief meetings in communities throughout the city.

Faulconer said Zimmerman "is breathing new life into our city" by promising to "restore public trust" in the police department.

In late 2012, the Department of Justice finished its review of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which has about 2,500 officers, by issuing a report with 75 findings and recommendations involving officer-involved shootings and other issues.

Twitter: @LATsandiego

tony.perry@latimes.com

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