Giusto: Rx for San Diego’s scandal plagued police department

February 18, 2014


sdpdThe San Diego Police Department has been riven with scandal. Cops trading tickets for sex, an on-duty rape of a prostitute,  groping ‘pat downs’ of suspects, soft-core porn sex posters at the desk of a sex crimes unit investigator and apparent nepotism have corroded the morale and morality of America’s Finest City’s cop shop. 

And then there are the lawsuits. Plenty of lawsuits. Lawsuits from female victims of the cops. Lawsuits from fellow female detectives. Millions of dollars in lawsuits. 

But San Diego’s Police Department is apparently losing something even more valuable: Public trust. One female activist told the Union Tribune, “Who is going to stop for a police officer?” asked Lei-Chala Wilson, a retired deputy public defender and president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “I’m not stopping.”

San Diegans have shown they have no appetite for this kind of behavior. They just booted the city’s top groper, erstwhile Mayor Bob Filner. They threw Filner out and hired a squeaky clean new mayor. Now Kevin Faulconer needs to clean house.

Chief Bill Lansdowne has called for an “audit” of his department. When under fire, take cover. That’s what this is. Before the city spends one penny on that audit,  however, these things should happen right now:

1) An immediate stop placed on all hiring of police officers pending an expedited review of the Police Officer Hiring process;

2) There needs to be a targeted and unbending review of the Psychological profile which has been developed for the hiring of police officers. There is something wrong with that profile. It is likely incomplete or inaccurately focused;

3) There must be a special emphasis placed on developing a hiring profile that dramatically tightens the screen on sorting out individuals who are identified as have notable potential for acting outside of socio-acceptable norms and especially for acting those out in positions of authority or otherwise. In my last years at Gresham and the Sheriff’s Office, Dr David Corey and I talked about such a screen and at the time he was working that issue through. He believed it was the next great public confidence cesspool for law enforcement;

4) He needs a similar profile developed for the supervisory promotion process with a slightly different emphasis. This is critical at the first line supervisor levels ( promotion to Corporal Rank if any and at the rank of Sergeant). The emphasis here should be about assessing the sensitivity;

5) The probation evaluation process apparently need a total do-over. When the rank and file tell you there is a problem with who gets passed into the regular cop club at the end of probation be assured there is a problem. It needs a do-over.

6) If the hiring process is not operated by the police department but is primarily in the hands of a city civil service process it must be returned singularly to SDPD with special oversight by the Mayor’s Office and the City Council.

7) The Chief needs to seek union support for a strong “Fitness For Duty” management right. This is important in creating a “reasonable suspicion” standard that allows deviant or unreasonable behavior outside of police norms will subject individual veteran police officers to a Fitness for Duty examination with a strong emphasis on confidentiality regardless of the eventual outcome and of course subject to California’s Public Records law and finally;

8) All of those need to be conducted outside the Chief’ Office direct or indirect control. The Chief should immediately enlist a panel of three active Police Chiefs and or Sheriffs with stellar personnel background experience and results to guide the above processes. It is fine to have the two other organizations do a longer term look at the department/community relations overall but there is an urgency that frantically needs an “outside real cop” expertise.

If the city goes forward with the audit–an underwhelming approach–it should be run out of the Mayor’s Office and/or by an independent Chief of police. The command structure of SDPD should remain totally on the sidelines and not inform the investigation at all except as they are interviewed. The auditing organization would report only to that specially administrative oversight and the final report would be released by the Mayor and without any hands editing on by SDPD Chief’s administrative structure. Having said all that…FAT CHANCE best describes even the remotest possibility that will happen.

As for the Chief himself, he owes the public a careful look to see if he is actually capable of stopping this very serious problem. Or is it just another academic exercise that will feel to the public like another good old fashion public policy rope-a-dope?

Bernie Giusto is the retired Multnomah County Sheriff, former Gresham Police Chief, former Gresham City Council Member and is a member of the Blogforce.