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La Jolla Town Council hears opposition to proposed curbs on San Diego police power

Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, speaks against the proposed PrOTECT Act ordinance.
Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, speaks against the proposed PrOTECT Act ordinance at the La Jolla Town Council meeting April 21.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The ‘PrOTECT Act’ would put new limits on officers to stop what its supporters call ‘biased policing.’

The La Jolla Town Council and local residents heard April 21 from opponents of a proposed San Diego ordinance that would put new limits on police power in the city, with some in attendance calling for more resources for what they called an already weakened department.

During the meeting, held online and at the La Jolla Recreation Center, Catherine Douglass, chairwoman of the Town Council’s Public Safety Committee, said the proposed ordinance, called the “PrOTECT Act,” “will change policing as you know it. It will favor the criminal and it will leave us in a position that we do not want to be in.”

The PrOTECT Act, an acronym for “Preventing Overpolicing Through Equitable Community Treatment,” was written by members of the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency. The measure has not yet gone to the City Council for consideration.

The ordinance seeks to change the legal standard for police stops and searches from “reasonable suspicion” to “probable cause.”

It also would prohibit officers from questioning people about any offenses beyond the one they were stopped about (unless the officers have probable cause).

Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a lawyer who helped write the PrOTECT Act and whose organization Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance, or MoGo, is part of the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency, told the La Jolla Light after the meeting that the ordinance is needed because “racial profiling happens in San Diego and we have yet to see a solution.”

She said several studies commissioned by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, San Diego City Council and American Civil Liberties Union back her claim.

The PrOTECT Act, Jones-Wright said, “is intended to curb racial profiling and take away some of the tactics that are used by police and sheriff’s deputies to overpolice certain communities.”

Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, the officers’ union, told the Town Council that the PrOTECT Act is “completely misnamed. It is not about new protection. The goal of the groups that have written this … is to stop police from doing their job.”

Wilson, who served as supervisor of the Police Department’s Northern Division, which includes La Jolla, from 2015 to 2020, said the PrOTECT Act would “eliminate a lot of enforcement things that we do,” such as checking stopped people for warrants in other cases.

“If I see someone looking at cars or standing outside a liquor store with a mask on, I can’t do anything until I actually see them commit a crime,” Wilson said.

“Our department does a great job of following the search and seizure rules that America has put in place to protect us from illegal search and seizure,” he said. “We get continual training, and if someone violates it, they’re held accountable for disciplinary procedures.”

The PrOTECT Act “goes above and beyond,” Wilson said. “If you violate [the ordinance’s] rules, which are harsher than anything else in America, we’re going to actually prosecute you as a criminal as a police officer.”

Wilson said the ordinance is “so radical that it doesn’t exist anywhere else in America.”

“It’s demoralizing for my officers,” he added.

Jones-Wright said later that the proposal aims only to “stop our policing agencies from engaging in biased policing” that is unconstitutional.

“We want [officers] to do their job in the spirit of the law and according to the law,” she said, “by treating everyone equally under the law.”

Jones-Wright said the PrOTECT Act’s aim to require probable cause, a higher standard than reasonable suspicion, will go far in reducing unconstitutional police detentions. She cited examples of officers stopping someone — often a person of color — for a broken taillight as a pretext to question the person about something else.

She said the ordinance would not prohibit an officer from asking for identification “if there’s probable cause that the person they stopped has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime, and it also doesn’t prohibit the officer from asking about a specific crime if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person they’re questioning has committed, is committing or is about to commit that crime.”

“This doesn’t turn officers into criminals,” she said. “This gives accountability.

“If San Diego passes the PrOTECT Act, we will be trailblazing. San Diego has the chance to implement transformative change that other jurisdictions want to see happen.”

Representatives of San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, told the Light that he has no comment about the act yet because it is not finalized or docketed.

Wilson encouraged people at the meeting to write to their City Council representative in opposition to the ordinance. Douglass asked the Town Council to take a position against it.

Town Council trustee Christy Littlemore said the group should first hear from the ordinance’s supporters.

The Town Council voted to consider taking a stance on the PrOTECT Act after investigating it further.

For more information, visit stopprotectact.com or bit.ly/ProtectActCPAT.

Four La Jollans running for four available spots on the La Jolla Town Council board introduced themselves at the council’s April 21 meeting.

Other public safety issues

San Diego police staffing: Douglass advocated better funding for the police, asking people at the meeting “to write letters demanding the budget that we deserve for the Police Department.”

Wilson said the Northern Division’s first, or day, shift met minimum staffing levels 21 percent of the days in February and 26 percent in March.

The second shift met minimum staffing levels 25 percent of the days in February and 19 percent in March.

For the third, or night, shift, the numbers were 11 percent in February and 13 percent in March, Wilson said.

“That means there’s communities going policeless,” Wilson said. “That means there’s not a police car in every neighborhood.”

He said the understaffing is “not a reflection on our department management at all. They are working with the resources there to do the best job they can, which is not enough.”

San Diego has experienced a rash of police officer vacancies since September that has been blamed on several factors, including the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees, relatively low pay, a tight job market and low morale among officers.

Burglaries update: Police Lt. Rick Aguilar said officers are still working overtime on a series of burglaries attributed to a South American crime ring.

At first, Aguilar said, there were 54 such burglaries in a six-month period. “We have reduced that; in the last 12 weeks we’ve had two burglaries.”

San Diego police Lt. Rick Aguilar says officers are still working overtime on a series of burglaries.
San Diego police Lt. Rick Aguilar says officers are still working overtime on a series of burglaries attributed to a South American crime ring.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

A suspect is in custody after being caught after he ran across the La Jolla High School field, Aguilar said.

A 40-year-old man was arrested after running onto the field during a lacrosse game while being chased by police the afternoon of March 14. According to San Diego police, a burglar had “ransacked” a house on Fay Avenue and fled when the residents returned.

Aguilar said officers will continue to work overtime to try to prevent and solve burglaries in La Jolla.

Lifeguard update: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Lt. Lonnie Stephens said there were about 700,000 visitors to La Jolla beaches in March, with lifeguards performing about 15,000 preventive actions such as asking people to move out of rip currents, plus 33 water rescues and 80 medical assists.

There also were two cliff rescues at Black’s Beach in March, he said.

Stephens reminded people to always swim near a lifeguard and to check with lifeguards for current water conditions.

Next meeting: The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12, likely in person and online. To learn more, visit lajollatowncouncil.org.