Recommends Changes at SDPD
Yesterday, all of San Diego’s civic and law enforcement leaders held a press conference concerning the results of an audit by the Department of Justice on the San Diego Police Department. The audit was requested by now retired SDPD Chief William Lansdowne after a couple years of report after report of police misconduct including several instances of sexual misconduct by SDPD officers on duty.
In general, the report blamed the problems on a lack of leadership. Too few Sergeants, reports of little problems never being addressed and turning into bigger problems and similar excuses/explanations. The audit made a number of recommendations, some of which have already been implemented.
The most obvious improvements concerning police misconduct are now seeing implementation. SDPD officers are now wearing body cameras while on duty. Soon all on duty officers should have them. This is a win win for police and citizens. If the cop is thinking about doing something wrong, if they have a camera on, maybe they won’t. If they still do, then they should be caught. If the citizen is doing something illegal or makes a false accusation of police misconduct, the video helps there, too. Another change requires two police officers to be present, either in the transport vehicle or in a trailing vehicle, when transporting female prisoners.
There were also recommendations concerning how to address instances of excessive use of force situations. That certainly has become a hot point issue throughout the United States in the last year or so.
In the wake of these recommendations, it is useful to take a step back to consider the underlying matters that policy changes will never be able to solve.
Most police officers go into law enforcement because they want to serve their community and try and make the world a safer place. Just like everybody else in the world, they can have bad days and can make mistakes, but, that does not mean they cannot go on to be excellent police officers.
Some people become cops to get a gun and a badge and be in charge. They do it for the power trip and look at everyone else as subservient to their authority. Almost all bad cops and most of the cases of police misconduct come from this group.
Problem cops will always exist and there is no magic way to get rid of them all or to prevent new ones from joining the ranks. Tools like cameras and policies that discourage problems certainly help and should be encouraged. But, they are only part of what is needed.
Everyone understands how and why prosecutors, judges and the higher ups in police departments want to defend police officers. The system can seem backwards if we do not start from the assumption the cops are the good guys. For people in the law enforcement system, life only makes sense if you trust the police.
But, the erosion of the Public’s trust in police is exactly what occurs with instances of police misconduct and excessive force. If the Public is not trusting the police, and the higher ups in the system are seemingly always running to defend the police, the Public develops a distrust of the entire system. As we have all seen from recent incidents from around the Country, that distrust is especially deep in some communities and in particular in minority communities.
The single biggest factor in preserving or improving the level of trust in the system is that police who are accused of wrong doing must be as aggressively pursued as anybody else. They should enjoy the same rights and expectation of fair treatment and due process, but, our leaders, both civil and in law enforcement, prosecutors and top cops alike, need to project to the community that they will treat cops the same as everyone else. If they do, even though it will not cure police misconduct, there will be a sense that it is not a battle between the system and the rest of us.