San Diego's police watchdog has lost its bite, according to its critics.
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The San Diego Citizens' Review Board on Police Practices was created to protect citizens from overly aggressive police officers and to clear officers facing erroneous claims, but critics say this important safeguard is failing.
According to the board's own data, in 2001, the board reviewed 133 allegations against officers.
In 2009, the board reviewed 46 cases.
Former board member Jude Litzenberger, an attorney who also served 21 years in the Navy, said the drop is easily explained.
Litzenberger and several other sources said the board has an inherent conflict of interest because the San Diego City Attorney's Office provides the legal guidance for the board.
"They would interpret the rules for you so you could only vote one way," Litzenberger said. "The board struggles with legitimacy."
The city attorney's office also defends the city when the police department faces a lawsuit.
"It's unfair to the citizens and sometimes unfair to the officers," Litzenberger said. "I think there are lots of opportunities for officers who are given a lot of authority to abuse that authority."
Sandra Cobet was a prospective member in training who resigned 11 months into that training because she felt the board was not impartial in its review of cases.
"I have seen several citizens ignored because the board is biased towards the police," Cobet said.
Cobet, the wife of a career police officer, accuses the board of rejecting her input because she was an outspoken Hispanic woman.
"They don't like anyone asking too many questions," said Cobet.
Two current board members, both who asked to remain anonymous, agreed with Corbett and Litzenberger. They said the board is controlled by a clique that it is "too white," and most board members are picked because they have a pro-police mentality.
None of the sources would talk about the specifics of any police officer vs. citizen cases they heard. Part of their oath as board members commits them to confidentiality and they honored that promise.
The office of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders responded to the I-Team story:
"It is imperative that the Citizens' Review Board treat all allegations seriously and that the review process be fair to everyone involved. If there are claims to the contrary, the board and its staff should look into them to determine if they have any merit."
Citizens' Review Board Chairman Dan Frazee described the board's job as "to review serious allegations of police," and added they do a good job of it.
In response questions posed to him by 10News, Frazee said the work the board does meets the criteria of an oversight agency.
The attorney representing the city attorney's office before the review board is Sharon Marshall. She is the target of much of the criticism coming from Cobet, Litzenberger and two current board members. They complained Marshall seems more interested in protecting the city against lawsuits then providing advice that would help board members make unbiased decisions.
The city attorney's office says Marshall serves "in a purely advisory role to the board, providing legal advice based on the facts presented."
San Diego Police Department Chief William Lansdowne said he supports the board's work and appreciates all the long hours volunteers put in.
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