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Transition to new San Diego police oversight board underway

The new commission, once established, will have investigatory and subpoena powers the review board doesn’t currently have

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San Diego Police Department

By Alex Riggins
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — Even before the San Diego electorate passed Measure B by a 3-1 margin, voting to dissolve the city’s current police review board in favor of a new oversight commission, the work was underway to make the transition a smooth one.

The group leading the way on mapping out the transition — a process that could take up to 18 months, if not longer — is the same one that will be dissolved by the measure: the Community Review Board on Police Practices.

That’s because review board members will become interim commissioners on the new Commission on Police Practices during the transition phase.

On Monday, the public will have its first chance to weigh in on the transition process, because even though the Measure B charter amendment spelled out many of the new commission’s key functions and roles, the City Council must still pass an ordinance fleshing out exact details of how the commission will operate.

Monday’s roundtable discussion, scheduled for 4 p.m., will be hosted by Andrea St. Julian, who drafted the charter amendment that became Measure B, and two members of the Community Review Board. The hosts invited representatives from roughly 100 community organizations to participate in the Zoom forum. The public can watch a livestream of the event on the city’s YouTube page and is encouraged to email questions and comments, which will be addressed during the discussion.

“We really want to find out what the community is looking for out of the new Commission on Police Practices,” St. Julian said.

Patrick Anderson, chair of the review board’s outreach committee and one of the forum’s hosts, said the group will use the event to help identify community concerns and discuss what a future oversight ordinance should look like.

The group hopes to host more such forums in the coming weeks, including at least one to address how commissioners will be chosen, an issue St. Julian and others called a top priority.

“The public is concerned there will be (commissioners) who don’t want to reasonably and fairly adjudicate the issues that come before them,” St. Julian said.

Mapping out the transition

A few months before the election, as it became clear through polling that Measure B was likely to pass, the Community Review Board created a committee to begin working on the transition process.

According to a draft timeline produced by that committee, the transition to the new Commission on Police Practices might not be complete until September 2022.

Doug Case, a former chair of the review board who is leading its ad hoc transition committee, said it took the city 18 months to implement changes to the review board that were required by the passage of 2016’s Measure G — and those minor changes to the review board’s operating procedures pale in comparison to creating an entirely new oversight commission.

Case and his committee are proposing the transition process be conducted in phases, to ensure “police oversight continues uninterrupted,” he said.

In the first phase, current review board members would become interim commissioners. That was written into Measure B to ensure there was no lapse in police oversight during the transition, according to Case and St. Julian. The review board’s current executive director would also become interim executive director of the new commission in the proposed first phase.

Because Measure B proposed a charter amendment, that amendment must be chaptered by California’s secretary of state. As soon as that process is complete — likely in late December or January — the review board ceases to exist, and the new commission begins operations.

Even before that, the committee has identified three urgent but somewhat technical issues the City Council and its five newly elected members must act upon to ensure the transition moves forward smoothly.

The first phase of the transition will need to include an interim ordinance, drafted by the city attorney and approved by the council, that authorizes the commission to continue reviewing San Diego Police Department internal affairs cases in a way that mirrors how the Community Review Board reviews those cases now.

The interim ordinance must include a budget — the review board’s yearly budget, with one paid executive, was about $247,000, while the new commission’s budget is expected to be between $1.2 million and $2.6 million per year. The ordinance must also establish a system for the commission to accept complaints against the Police Department and authorize the interim commission to hire outside counsel.

“Our thinking was to get the City Council to adopt in phase one all those things that don’t require meet and confer” with the Police Officers Association, Case said.

The new commission, once fully implemented, will have investigatory and subpoena powers the review board does not currently wield, but the interim commissioners are not expected to make use of that power yet, according to Case.

That’s because the final ordinance, which will spell out how the commissioners can investigate complaints, how they’ll be able to interview officers, how they’ll be able to recommend discipline against officers, will all be subject to meet-and-confer negotiations with the police union.

It remains undetermined how investigations of police-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and allegations of police misconduct would be handled while the review board members are acting as interim commissioners.

“It seems clear that once the commission is in place, it has a duty to investigate — but how do you investigate until (a final) ordinance is in place?” Case said.

The second phase of the transition will include the City Council adopting the portions of the new ordinance that will require meet-and-confer negotiations with the police union.

“Even in the best of circumstances, meet and confer can take time,” Case said.

Once it reaches its final form, the commission is expected to be staffed by an executive director, executive assistant, policy analyst and community engagement coordinator. The commission could hire full-time investigators and a full-time performance auditor, or contract with outsiders to fill those positions. The commission will also contract with outside, independent counsel.

The review board’s current executive director is hired by and reports to the mayor’s office, but the new executive director will serve at the will of the commission, according to Case. Once the City Council selects and approves the commissioners, the commission is expected to interview and select an executive director whom the City Council will ultimately approve and hire.

That executive director will then hire the rest of the staff. According to the transition committee’s timeline, the City Council would hire a permanent executive director by June 2022, and staff hires would be made by September 2022.

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