Will the Next Chief of Police ‘Protect and Serve’ All San Diegans Fairly, Equally and Effectively?

Assistant Chief Nisleit must answer key questions to demonstrate the SDPD will ‘protect and serve’ all San Diegans fairly, equally and effectively under his leadership.

Testimony of ACLU Senior Policy Strategist Christie Hill offers insights, raises questions at first of two City Council hearings to confirm next Chief of Police.

Good Evening, Council President Cole and esteemed City Councilmembers.

My name is Christie Hill, I am the Senior Policy Analyst for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The City Council has the duty to ask questions and obtain commitments from Assistant Chief Nisleit to ensure that, if confirmed as our next Chief of Police, he is willing and able to lead a police department that will ‘protect and serve’ all San Diegans fairly, equally and effectively.

Thank you for allowing our organization to give input on this important matter.

For the past year, the San Diego ACLU has worked as a member of the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency to advocate for a transparent, inclusive and community-centered process for selecting the next Chief of the San Diego Police Department. Throughout, San Diegans have been clear about the values and priorities that matter most.

  • San Diegans want a chief who is committed to public accountability and transparency, who will exercise leadership and bring an end to biased policing in the department and the region, and who will develop an inclusive vision for the department as a whole.
  • San Diegans want a chief who acknowledges and embraces the need for community-oriented police practices; who will lead the charge towards the transformative change that many of our communities desperately need.
  • San Diegans want a chief who will uphold the City Council’s commitment that San Diego’s police officers will not serve as immigration agents.
  • San Diegans want a chief who will move forward with full implementation of The Racial and Identity Profiling Act.

The ACLU calls on the Council to ask a number of critical questions of Assistant Chief Nisleit to allow you and the public to hear if the Mayor’s nominee shares these civic values. For example, concerns about unjust bias have plagued the San Diego Police Department for decades. Will Assistant Chief Nisleit acknowledge and apologize for the racial profiling documented by the independent SDSU study of police traffic stop data?

  • Will the next chief immediately put an end to the practice of providing ICE with information gathered by license plate readers?
  • Will the nominee confront racial disparities in how San Diego police officers ‘protect and serve’ the public?
  • What steps will he take to reform the specific policies and practices that enable and sustain these disparities?
  • Will the next chief end pretext stops?
  • Will the next chief create a traffic policy as recommended in the SDSU study?
  • Will the next chief commit to working with the public and the City Council to develop a surveillance policy that requires public input and council approval before implementation?

The ACLU stands ready to work with the City and the SDPD to address these concerns. And we urge you to raise them – as well as the issues raised by CPAT and others – at the February 26 confirmation hearing.

A few weeks ago, Portland’s new chief of police, Danielle Outlaw, delivered a public address to city residents.  She used her time to speak clearly about policing and race, specifically the role our nation’s police forces have played in maintaining racial inequalities.

Chief Outlaw’s extraordinary remarks left me to wonder if our future chief will be equally courageous and forthcoming.

  • Will he welcome open dialogue with affected communities about these issues?
  • Will he hear concerns and answer questions without becoming dismissive or defensive?
  • Will he be the change agent we need? Or will he maintain the status quo?

“Community Policing” isn’t just about spending extra minutes out of your squad car. It is about a policing approach that values the public as partners in identifying non-law enforcement responses to issues, and when a law enforcement presence in required, ensuring it is respectful of the wider community.

“Procedural Justice” trainings are valuable, but we must look at discriminatory policies that good police have to implement – like the youth DNA collection policy – and eliminate them. Will Assistant Chief Nisleit end the youth DNA collection policy?

These are the types of qualifications and questions that the ACLU recommends the Council evaluate and ask of Assistant Chief Nisleit.

And, finally – to Assistant Chief Nisliet: you have indicated that the San Diego Police Department will be more transparent should you be confirmed as our next chief.

  • You can model real transparency at your February 26 hearing by clearly articulating the approaches you will take to address the problems facing San Diego.
  • We know there is good within the SDPD. We know there are capable and committed officers. We also know that reform is needed. The key questions are, what is your vision and what is your plan?

Thank you for your careful consideration of the ACLU’s concerns and those of our community partners.