San Diego council committee advances ordinance governing police oversight commission

Protestors march to the San Diego Police Department
In this June 6, 2020, file photo, San Diego police officers in riot helmets stand outside their downtown headquarters during a social justice protest.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee voted 4-0 to send implementation ordinance for Commission on Police Practices to full City Council


The San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee voted 4-0 Friday, Jan. 21, to move forward with a revised draft of the ordinance that will shape the city’s new Commission on Police Practices.

The proposed ordinance has been in the works since last February when the same committee directed the City Attorney’s Office to draft a proposed ordinance for the commission, which was created in late 2020 after nearly 75 percent of voters approved ballot Measure B. That measure dissolved the city’s existing police review board — which had no investigative authority — and authorized creating a commission that had independent investigatory, review and auditing powers over the San Diego Police Department.

The Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Council President Pro Tempore Monica Montgomery Steppe, rejected an initial draft of the ordinance last June. Critics argued that draft did not give enough power or independence to the commission and fell well short of what Measure B had promised.

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A month later, City Attorney Mara Elliott proposed outside legal counsel help revise the ordinance, and that draft proposal was made public last week. Several social justice groups held community meetings to discuss the latest proposal, which many local activists said was an improvement on the first iteration, yet still fell short of the target.

During the Friday, Jan. 21, special meeting, dozens of community members, as well as current members of the Commission on Police Practices, spoke out against portions of the ordinance they said still needed improvement.

Among the chief concerns was language that might ban people from the commission who have criminal convictions on their records. People who oppose the restriction say it excludes important perspectives of those who have been directly affected by policing.

Community members also asked the committee not to allow meet-and-confer bargaining sessions about the ordinance between the police union and the city, fearing the union would attempt to weaken it. Others expressed concern that the wording authorizing independent investigations of police shootings and misconduct allegations is still not strong enough.

“My primary concern is that the records section needs to be more robust,” Doug Case, the first vice chair of the Commission on Police Practices, told the committee during public comments. “To fulfill our charge to review and evaluate the policies and procedures and practices of the Police Department, we need unfettered access to all records maintained by the city ... To make informed recommendations regarding discipline (for officers) ... we need specific authorization to access disciplinary records.”

Attorney Andrea St. Julian, who authored the charter amendment that became Measure B on behalf of Women Occupy San Diego, and also authored a “Voters’ Ordinance” that community members had championed instead of the one written by the City Attorney’s Office, asked the committee to delay approving the draft ordinance to give the community more time to review it.

St. Julian said the “change in definition of investigations” from the first draft ordinance to the second is “unfortunately still not quite there yet, in terms of solving the problem.” She also argued “collective bargaining must be removed.”

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Montgomery Steppe, a fierce advocate for police reform, told the community members she shared some of their concerns and was grateful for their input, but that she was “proud of what we have before us today.” Montgomery Steppe made the motion to approve the ordinance and send it to the full council.

“As I have really trusted (the) community and taken that input, I would just ask the extension of that same trust and commitment,” she said in explaining her decision to not delay sending it to the council. “I have to, in my position, evaluate the law, and ... even when we’re talking about accountability with regard to police, one of the only groups that have a bill of rights specifically for them.

“And so under all of that, I believe we have crafted an ordinance that meets the spirit and intent of Measure B, and also is legally permissible based on the police officers’ bill of rights, based on (the) City Charter ... based on a lot of the labor laws we have to adhere to,” she said.

St. Julian and Maresa Martin Talbert, co-chairs of San Diegans for Justice, released a statement after the meeting thanking Montgomery Steppe and the committee’s three other councilmembers for making amendments to the proposed ordinance throughout the week and during the Friday, Jan. 21, meeting.

“While we did not succeed in getting all of our demands met, we are encouraged by the progress made today,” the statement read. “Our top concerns remain not allowing collective bargaining outcomes to control the Commission’s procedures and ensuring the public nature of all CPP activity as allowed by law. We are looking forward to working with the community, Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and the rest of the Councilmembers to take additional steps forward to address these concerns.”