SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- From across the country to here in San Diego, there is no denying racial tensions between law enforcement and some communities.
Locally, San Diego County has seen protests over officer-involved shootings and deaths of people in police custody.
The 2016 shooting of Ugandan immigrant Alfred Olango sparked protests throughout El Cajon. Olango’s sister called 911 to report that her brother was displaying erratic behavior. Olango pulled something out of his pocket officers believed was a gun and, according to police, he assumed “what appeared to be a shooting stance.” Officer Richard Gonsalves fired his gun at least four times, killing Olango.
Earlier this year, a jury in a separate civil suit found the officer acted reasonably.
In National City, the death of Earl McNeil in 2018 sparked questions from his family and protests at city council meetings. McNeil, who had mental illness, went to the National City Police station seeking help, according to his family. Police said when he went to the station, he was making paranoid, threatening and irrational statements. Police say he told them he was in possession of a controlled substance. A statement from National City police said he was transported to County Jail for processing and exhibited signs of medical distress. According to his family, he suffered brain and nerve damage that led to his placement in a coma. He was pronounced dead June 11, 2018.
Bishop Cornelius Bowser is a former gang member who grew up in San Diego. “I was up to no good every day,” he said.
He turned his life around and is now a local activist, vocal about what he calls inequities in policing. That includes overpolicing, with more negative than positive interactions.
“What I mean by being overpoliced is that the community is saturated with law enforcement. They’re looking specifically for specific people. When a black person, just by being black and young, that makes me a criminal. That makes me a threat,” Bowser said.
He feels there is a lack of community policing, which is commonly defined as the use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address concerns. “The culture has to be changed, the way [police] come into our community—they have to build those relationships. And they have to be here long enough,” Bowser said.
The District Attorney's Office analyzed officer-involved shootings over the past 25 years. White officers make up more than 70 percent of those involved in these shootings.
When it comes to the race of those on the other end of the police gun, nearly 40 percent are white, 36 percent are Hispanic, and 17 percent are black.
Click here for more information on the above charts.
Bowser points out the population of black people in the county is far less than that. According to the latest United States census numbers, it is about 5.5 percent.
“Black people, they get stopped the most. They’re the ones their cars get searched the most,” Bowser said.
Team 10 asked each local law enforcement agency their policies regarding racial bias training and diversity, as well as the racial/ethnic breakdown of sworn personnel in their departments.
TRAINING, BREAKDOWN BY RACE/ETHNICITY (Click each department name for more information. El Cajon and Escondido did not provide Team 10 data for this report).
El Cajon Police Department: Lt. Soulard with El Cajon Police referred Team 10 to the County Regional Training Facility at Miramar College and police academy through Southwestern for information. We have yet to receive information regarding information of sworn personnel.
Escondido Police Department: The department refused to give any information. Lt. Lick with Escondido Police said they “will not be responding.”
National City Police Department
San Diego Sheriff’s Department
Team 10 interviewed the leaders of the three largest local law enforcement agencies: San Diego Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, and Chula Vista Police.
When it comes to training, they said it starts in academy for all local law enforcement with more than 20 hours of cultural diversity training. Then there is continuous professional training every couple of years.
When it comes to recruitment, Sheriff Gore said they are doing better than they have, but they are not exactly where he wants to be right now. “It’s a time-consuming process,” Gore said.
“What I try to focus on is who we’re recruiting. It’s important that this department reflect the communities that we serve,” Sheriff Gore said. He calls diversity one of the department’s core values.
Law enforcement leaders agreed a diverse staff helps with working with a diverse community.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said they, too, have been focusing on diversity in their staff. He said that and community policing are top priorities. He does not agree with criticism there is a lack of community policing in the department. “I look at this police department, everything they do, all the different problem-solving meetings they go to, all the different events they go to,” Chief Nisleit said.
“Community policing is a philosophy. What I envision for our police department down the road, when we have this department fully staffed—which I believe we will—is more officers out on foot, more officers on bicycles…interacting with community members,” Chief Nisleit said.
For Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy, she spoke about implicit bias training her entire department went through, put on by the Anti-Defamation League. It is designed to reduce the influence of bias in interactions and decision-making.
“It makes you become more aware,” Chief Kennedy said.
Members of both the San Diego Police Department and Sheriff’s Department have also participated in ADL’s implicit bias training. A spokesperson with the Sheriff’s Department said they sent about 150 employees, including their command staff, supervisors, and senior trainers.
Team 10 asked about dealing with racial tension in the community. To ease that, Chief Kennedy said you must be involved by “coming to the table [and] having conversations.”
“If we’re working against each other, it will be much more difficult,” Chief Kennedy said. She was proud of a recent SANDAG report that showed 91 percent of Chula Vista residents were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the department.
“We have to learn how to talk to people. We have to learn how to be compassionate and empathetic,” she said.
Sheriff Gore said for those who think racial tension has gotten worse, he asks people "to look at individual cases."
"[Don't] judge every deputy sheriff, every San Diego police officer by what they see on the news from all over the country," he added.
"This is a people-person type business. It's your ability to talk to folks, to interact with folks, de-escalation, and all that," Chief Nisleit added.
POLICE TRANSPARENCY PROJECT DISCUSSION
Join our Facebook group for constructive conversation around these issues. If you are a community member with questions about how the police investigate themselves or have suggestions on how officer-involved shootings or police misconduct can be prevented, we welcome you to join this group and the conversation. Follow this link to join https://www.facebook.com/groups/transparencyproject/