The Police, Public Policy, and the Community


Dr. John E. Warren

Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman did a great public relations job at the Fourth District Town Hall Meeting on March 24th. But what was not said in response to some of the questions and comments from the audience was perhaps more important to the community than what was given. For example several audience members raised questions about the ongoing racial profiling by the San Diego Police. The Chief pledged to work to eliminate this practice. Another person expressed concern over an incident in which the police took a whole family from a vehicle and “curbed” them (made the whole family sit on the curb) while they (the police) conducted their check. The response to this issue should be of concern to the community. The Chief responded with “we are looking at modification of the policy…” That answer should not be acceptable. The public needs to be reminded that it sets public policy by the actions of the Mayor and City Council who control the policies and practices of all agencies of the city government including the San Diego Police Department.

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee has the right to hold public hearings on the policies and practices of the San Diego Police and to make recommendations including writing the language for changes where the public gains such support by getting the required number of city council members to vote for such change. THE PUBLIC HAS A RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES IN POLICE PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES. SUCH CHANGES SHOULD NOT HANG ON WHETHER THE POLICE DEPARTMENT AGREES WITH THE CHANGES.

Next, in response to the issue of recruitment, the Chief stated that at last look, the Police Academy classes showed an almost 50 percent “minority” enrollment. That should not be a comfort to either the African American community or the African community. The term “minority” has been used to include Latino, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and all others that are not members of what was the old “white” majority. Recruitment of African Americans must not be allowed to be reduced to “the prices for advertisement in our newspapers are too high” when the department has had a practice, in some cases in the past, of going out of state to recruit. That expense is greater than dollar outlays for recruiting local citizens. Community newspapers do not have the budgets, staff or size of the dailies, but “due process” which is public notice and opportunity to respond, does not require subjective determinations by public officials as to what is acceptable rather it requires “good faith notice” to all. That notice requirement cannot be met through the internet when all citizens are not on the internet; neither can it be met by a subjective determination as to what selective members of a community can be reached to satisfy this requirement.

Public policy, which is the citizens determination of what our department should look like is more important than the subjective “in-house” decisions by those appointed to run a city agency like the San Diego Police Department.

We wish Chief Zimmerman all success in her new position, but we don’t want good wishes and support to get confused with relinquishing our right to determine the public policy by which we are governed and policed.