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San Diego County supervisors eye stronger oversight, mandatory reporting and other law enforcement reforms

06/13/20

Read the full article by Charles T. Clark in the San Diego Union-Tribune here.

Last year a divided San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted at an emotional board meeting to oppose a state bill that ultimately passed and raised the legal standards for police use of deadly force.

Now, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and weeks of protest in San Diego and nationwide — most San Diego County supervisors agreed this week that law enforcement needs to be reformed immediately and over the long-term.

Four of San Diego’s five county supervisors spoke with a Union-Tribune reporter about specific law enforcement reform ideas they are considering.

They talked about giving more power to the county’s independent commission that oversees law enforcement misconduct cases, changing law enforcement’s role when interacting with people who are homeless or mentally ill, and creating a “duty to intervene” requirement that would mandate officers and deputies to report and intervene if they witness wrongdoing by a colleague.

Several county supervisors raised the possibility of increasing law enforcement’s accountability by re-examining the structure and powers of the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board, also known as CLERB.

CLERB was established by a voter initiative in 1990 following a series of abuse allegations inside county jails. The volunteer group was tasked with providing independent oversight of the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said he has heard ideas from community advocates that could promote greater transparency and oversight for the group.

Fletcher added that efforts to change the culture can build trust with the community and applauded some of the law enforcement leaders across the country who have shown solidarity with protesters.

He said some community advocates want the county to require implicit bias training for all county workers.

They also support creating an Office of Equity and Inclusion, similar to what San Diego City Council approved, Fletcher said. That office, if it were modeled San Diego’s design, would be able to work across departments to address systemic racism — be it in economic development, land use and planning, or the Sheriff’s Department.

“I think it starts with the recognition that the challenge in front of us is not just about the murder of Mr. Floyd, it is about hundreds of years of systemic racism that is baked into our country since the original sin of slavery in our founding,” Fletcher said. “So there are changes that obviously need to come in criminal justice areas, but also in economic justice, environmental justice and addressing the inequities that are present in every level of our society.”

All four county supervisors discussed community policing.

They also discussed reexamining the role the Sheriff’s Department plays in behavioral health services and interacting with people who are homeless. They noted deputies often end up as the first responders to situations that may be better handled by social workers, mental health counselors or other social service providers.

Fletcher said the county needs to create mobile crisis units. Jacob suggested having something similar to the county’s Alzheimer’s response teams; it could be an expansion or offshoot of the county Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams, also known as PERT.

All of the supervisors also emphasized the importance of making sure community voices are heard about any potential reforms, especially members of the black community.