Chamber leader offers police reform lessons

The president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is calling for law enforcement agencies to go back to the days of “community policing” where officers focus on problem solving and developing strong bonds with the communities they serve.  

Jerry Sanders, who is also the former police chief and mayor of San Diego, says today’s military model of “stop and frisk” and “zero tolerance” that became popularized in the 2000s is failing. 

In a recent opinion piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sanders said it’s time for reforms in police tactics and training. Sanders said he was “disgusted” by the police violence witnessed by Americans over the past six weeks. 

Among the most shocking were the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, he said. Peaceful protests over those deaths were then “upended by bad police tactics and in some cases, brutality.”  

He said that it’s time for police agencies to institute the community-based model. 

“Police need to stop pretext stops and the overuse of stop and frisk. We need all police, every single one, to be decent, respectful, analytic and impartial. That is the only way that policing, which relies on trust, can be effective,” Sanders wrote.

Proven policing strategies  

As police chief from 1993 to 1999, Sanders instituted a community policing model that received national accolades when overall crime dropped 40 percent during that time. Homicides went from 165 a year to 42.  

Sanders recently shared his thoughts with Chamber Business News about proven strategies for community policing.

Here are his key takeaways:

Demilitarize the police academy  

The most important step is to move police training academies away from the military model.

“Police officers are like football players and basketball players. You play like you train.” 

When officers go out in the community, 90 percent of what they do is discretionary. It’s not like being in the military. 

“The academy is not a boot camp and it shouldn’t be a boot camp.”

More training in problem solving 

Training should emphasize problem solving, critical thinking and de-escalation strategies.

Police also need to have an understanding of the historical context of policing in poor and racially and ethnically diverse communities. 

Policies should be community and citizen-directed 

Successful community policing uses a “bottom up” approach where police officers are directed by citizens’ wants and needs. 

Police are not social workers 

There needs to be a rethinking about the role of police officers and what they are qualified to do.

Law enforcement officers are not specially trained and licensed in treating substance abuse and mental illness or responding to school truancy or student behavior issues. Yet, they often are confronted with these populations.

“Officers are tasked with solving homelessness though they are not mental health workers or substance abuse providers. Being homeless is not against the law; it is a public health issue and public health officials should lead the response.” 

Arizona’s biggest city enacts police reforms 

As tensions have risen across the nation, many police departments and cities in Arizona are reevaluating their policies and taking action including Phoenix.

Police Chief Jeri Williams, who is Black and the first female to serve as chief, has announced a number of changes, including the elimination of the use and training in the Carotid Control Technique.

The police academy also is modernizing training to emphasize communication skills, empathy, and stress management, she stated last month. 

“We can’t function as a department without the trust of our community and there are adjustments we can make to strengthen that trust,” Williams said.  “We pride ourselves on being an organization willing to learn and evolve, to listen to our community and become better. I am confident this moves us closer to that goal.”

Victoria Harker

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