Playing It Safe: San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit on the beat with residents; shares his views on community concerns

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit says his No. 1 priority is restaffing the department and putting more support staff and more efficient programs in place.

 

New San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit arrived at Wesley Palms Retirement Community in Pacific Beach on June 4, 2018 to meet beach and bay residents and hear about their public-safety concerns.

District 2 City Council member Lori Zapf hosted the event and started the program by informing the 75 guests that the City has finally addressed its understaffed police force iproblem by offering a salary increase of 25 to 30 percent over the next two years. Zapf said this should stem the flow of officers leaving, and help retain those who've been trained and are working effectively. The City is also offering police a lateral transfer program to get back some of the officers who left the force.

Zapf also gave the audience an update on the beach community's crime issues — citing human trafficking and the reckless use of electric scooters — as the most pressing of late.

After being introduced, Chief Nisleit noted that 49 new officers had started the police academy that morning — compared to the usual 20 to 30 new recruits. He attributed the increase to the new pay package.

Nevertheless, he pointed out, the department is still 200 officers short, so his No. 1 priority is restaffing the department and putting more support staff and more efficient programs in place.

Response times

"I want 90 percent of 9-1-1 calls answered within 10 seconds," he said. "We've been meeting that threshold. Where we've been struggling is with the non-emergency calls. Most of those calls are being answered in less than 2 minutes, but we've had some waits go up to 30 or 40 minutes, and that's unacceptable to me. That's why you're seeing us bring in additional dispatchers to become fully staffed."

Despite insufficient staff struggles, Nisleit reported that San Diego is celebrating a 49-year low on crime, which he attributed to the relationship between other agencies and alert community members who help police officers. To further that engagement, Nisleit said he started a Neighborhood Policing Division in March to deal with homelessness and public safety.

Speeding scooters

Since the speeding electric scooters problem is considered a public-safety issue, Nisleit said officers gave out 275 citations to stifle them on the boardwalks in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach on Memorial Day weekend alone. He pledged that beach-team officers would continue to address the problem throughout the summer.

Housing the homeless

As far as the homelessness issues go and go, Nisleit said the first step is outreach — getting homeless people off the street and getting them help — whether that means taking them to an institution, a hospital or more permanent housing.

The second step is identifying those who are committing crimes and refusing help, and then getting them off the streets.

Most of the audience's questions centered around homeless people, with one resident asking: "Why not hire social workers and make police officers out of them, instead of hiring police officers to be social workers?"

Nisleit replied that a large percentage of those homeless are involved in crimes, so policing was needed first.

"We have a lot of assaults in the homeless population, a lot of thefts, a lot of prostitution, a lot of narcotic sales, and a lot of narcotics use," he explained. "We're training in social services, but we also have the Homeless Outreach Team that brings a component of that. We have psychologists with us, we also have social workers on the team. But you have to have someone who can address the crime element first, before someone else will come in and talk to those folks to make sure they're secure."

Another question prompted a discussion about the lack of housing for those who are homeless.

Nisleit responded that three organizations (Veterans Village, Father Joe's Villages and the Alpha Project) have opened transitional tents to help the problem. "I get a count every Monday. They're pretty much full. So that takes about 700-plus people off the streets. But the nice part of that is, those folks slowly start going out and getting into something more permanent from those facilities. That's made a huge difference for us."

Nisleit also addressed the debate about whether to give the homeless food and clothing. He recommended taking such donations to the transitional tents, so that trash and belongings don't end up cluttering public streets and sidewalks.

Stopping school shooters

Many attendees were concerned about recent school shootings and how San Diego students were being protected.

Nisleit shared their concern. "What's alarming," he offered, "is that we've received more school threats this year already than the previous year. We're going to do everything we can as a police department to make sure we vet every single threat to a school. If someone is, in fact, making those threats, at minimum, they'll be taken to County Mental Health for an evaluation, as being a danger to themselves or others. We've done that quite a few times, so far, and we've also made quite a few arrests. School threats are something that we take very seriously."

When asked whether he believed teachers should be armed, Chief Nisleit answered: "I want teachers focusing on teaching. I want kids focusing on learning, and not worrying about their safety. When you see more threats come out, you'll see more officers on those campuses and this will lead to arrests. I never want to see a kid go to jail, but at the end of the day, if they're talking about hurting themselves or others, we're not going to allow that."

The meet-and-greet ended on a note of gratitude from both the audience and Chief Nisleit. He thanked community members for being "the eyes and ears" that help officers do their jobs, and reminded the mostly senior audience that the police department is actively hiring, with no age limit on the job.

"Be sure to pick up an application on your way out," he said with a grin.

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