Policing onced worked in All San Diego Communities by Bob Filner
Community Policing-lt Once Worked in San Diego!
From 1987-1992, l was the City Councilmember for District 8-which included many of San Diego’s black and brown neighborhoods. Based on my long history of working on problems of institutionalized racism, I asked Mayor Maureen O’Connor and Police Chief Bob Burgreen to work with me to implement”community policing” in my District. They agreed to set up some pilot programs.
The San Diego Police Department was ready for new approaches. Under the leadership of Chief Bill Kolender, the Department went through some radical changes in the 1980s. The Chief tamed some of its worst “cowboy” and military attitudes and behavior. Through his hiring and promotion policies, his understanding of the need for diversity, his constant emphasis on the proper police role of serving the community, and his non-stop appearances at community events and meetings in all parts of the City, he radically changed both the actions and perceptions of San Diego’s police force. A true engine of change, Chief Kolender has never really been given adequate recognition for his groundbreaking work. But when he retired, in 1988, San Diego’s cops were open to true community policing.
John and I spoke many times and shared great moments, I’m going to miss my friend and fellow warrior.
I used to say that I was the only white City Councilmember in urban America who could walk, accompanied by the Police Chief into a community meeting of black and brown residents and get a standing ovation! How did we accomplish this? Lots of consultants led our cops-of g!! ranks-into a better understanding of communities of color-and the nature of institutionalized racism. Subjects covered included the history of Jim Crow, the segregated nature of education, housing, and healthcare, and economic disparities.
They were forced to come to grips with their own racism. With such education, they were truly armed for battle! Out on the job, the very first thing we did was to get the cops out of their patrol cars! The beats consisted of walking and bicycle patrols-where our officers could see (and be seen by) the whole community.
They had to get to know all the small businesses, all the schools, all the Churches, all the community groups, all the health clinics, all the recreation centers, all the Little Leagues. They talked (and, more importantly, listened to!) the kids, the pastors and priests, the merchants, the teachers, the nurses and doctors, the community leaders, the Ietter carriers, the service providers, the gang members. They always emphasized they were there to serve-not oppress.2
Soon, everybody in the community knew their beat cops by their first names. They, had their beeper numbers (hey, this is the 80s!). They knew personallv who to call! when any trouble occurred-and their trust led them (in a remarkable development in the eyes of the officers) to provide vital information in crime cases they never would have before.
The community felt good about their police -and the cops felt good too! I knew them all-and noticed the improvement in morale as they felt supported by the community. Evervone, teachers, City bureaucrats, letter carriers, trash collectors, even politicians-wants to feel good about the jobs they are doing.
They do want to do their jobs well-and they want to know that their “clients” appreciate them. Cops too! The applause, the recognition, the trust, the love, the relationships formed, the knowledge gained-all became a part of a spiral of good deeds, widespread recognition, better morale-and more good deeds. Unlike some of their previous assignments, these community cops couldn’t wait to get back to work! And their enthusiasm infected the rest of the Department too.
ln evaluating these pilot programs, all the “objective” statistics were positive.
ln sum, crime did go down! But the standing ovations at community
meetings were the only statistics we needed. The crime numbers all seemed
secondary to the community’s sense of being truly served -and the cops’ sense that they were truly serving.
We did it once. Let’s do it again-across our whole City! Let’s shift the
discussion from “defunding” our police to “reimagining” our police. The funds will follow our imagination.
Bob Filner started his political career as a Freedom Rider in 1961 when he served two months in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. He was a Professor of History at San Diego State University from 1970-1992. He was elected Member (and President) of the San Diego Board of Education (1979-1983), Member (and Deputy Mayor) of the San Diego City Council (1987-1992), Member of the United States Congress (and Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee) (1992-2012), and Mayor of the City of San Diego (2012-2013).
The San Diego Monitor-News has been serving Black San Diego since 1986