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San Diego City Council approves framework for Commission on Police Practices

The framework of San Diego’s Commission on Police Practices moved forward Monday when the City Council approved an ordinance that will shape the makeup of the civilian oversight panel.

The action came after seven months of bargaining between the city and the San Diego Police Officers Association.

The police union and several community members unsuccessfully pushed for different amendments; the council, though, proceeded without changes to the ordinance. The union wanted the city to eliminate a rule that would prevent immediate family members of law enforcement officers in the county from serving on the commission, while several community members asked that anyone with a criminal history not be barred from joining the panel.

The ordinance would prevent people convicted of certain crimes from serving on the commission.

“I think it’s a good balance,” Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe said of the ordinance. “I really do.”

The ordinance has been in the works since February 2021, when the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee directed the City Attorney’s Office to draft rules for the commission, which nearly 75 percent of voters approved in late 2020.

Once it is operating, the commission is expected to investigate police shootings and in-custody deaths. That will mark a change from current structure in which the commission reviews police investigations in such cases.

The commission will include 25 members, with seats reserved for one resident from each of the city’s nine council districts, two residents ages 18 to 24 and five residents in low- or moderate-income neighborhoods.

During several rounds of negotiations, the police union pressed for the city to allow family members of law enforcement officers to join the commission. On Wednesday, President Jared Wilson made a final attempt.

“I understand we want to prevent a conflict of interest, but don’t wholesale ban our families,” he told the City Council. “The children of police officers can be on juries. We’re asking for the same thing.”

Wilson suggested the exclusion would cause officers to feel like they work in an anti-police environment.

City staff members argued that the ordinance struck a balance because it allows former officers who worked outside San Diego County at least five years ago and their family members to serve on the commission.

Andrea St. Julian, co-chair of San Diegans for Justice, and several other public speakers said they were pleased to see the city did not accept the police union’s demand.

Councilmember Chris Cate, the son of a retired California Highway Patrol officer, said the rule irked him. He acknowledged it was personal.

Although he serves on the City Council, he said he would be unable to serve on the commission.

Several council members said the goal of the commission was to create a solid layer of oversight and accountability.

Montgomery Steppe said the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which recommends best practices, advocates for the exclusion of family members of law enforcement officers.

“That’s where the recommendation came from, along with the community input,” she said. It did not arise from an anti-police sentiment, she added.

Councilmember Stephen Whitburn said he was sympathetic to the police union’s request but said he realized the impetus of the commission was to improve trust in communities.

The ordinance would also bar people convicted of certain crimes, including violent crimes against government officials, to serve on the commission.

During the negotiations with the city, the police union also pushed for a broader ban on criminal records.

Several public speakers pushed back Wednesday. They said people who served their time for their crimes should be allowed on the commission.

City staff said the exclusion of people with certain convictions is consistent with state law changes related to treatment of people with criminal histories, including California’s Fair Chance Act.

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