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La Jolla Town Council votes to oppose ‘PrOTECT Act’ limits on San Diego police

James Rudolph (center), who is stepping down as La Jolla Town Council president, speaks at the group's June 9 meeting.
James Rudolph (center), who is stepping down from his role as La Jolla Town Council president, speaks at the group’s June 9 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

After hearing from two supporters of the “PrOTECT Act,” a proposed measure that aims to put new limits on police power in San Diego, the La Jolla Town Council voted June 9 to send a letter to San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava opposing it.

The draft ordinance’s name is an acronym for “Preventing Overpolicing Through Equitable Community Treatment.”

The PrOTECT Act, which has not yet gone before the City Council for consideration, was written by members of the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency.

“PrOTECT ... will require officers to have probable cause to stop, detain or search a person,” said Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a lawyer who helped write the proposal and whose organization Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance, or MoGo, is part of CPAT.

The ordinance also would “eliminate stops for certain equipment violations, such as expired registration or a broken turn signal,” she said. “It will prohibit officers from questioning people about an offense beyond the offense for which they are stopped unless officers have probable cause.”

At the Town Council’s April meeting, Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, told the group 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 said the Police 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. We get continual training, and if someone violates it, they’re held accountable for disciplinary procedures.”

The PrOTECT Act “goes above and beyond,” he 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.”

At the time, Jones-Wright told the La Jolla Light that “we want [officers] to do their job in the spirit of the law and according to the law by treating everyone equally under the law.”

Christie Hill, advocacy director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, which is a member of CPAT, said during the June 9 meeting at the La Jolla Recreation Center that the country’s current police practices have racist origins — vestiges of the “slave patrols designed to empower the entire White population and control the movements of Black people.”

“There is a different standard of policing when it comes to Black and Brown communities as compared to White communities,” Jones-Wright said, citing a 2016 San Diego State University study commissioned by the City Council that concluded that Black drivers are nearly three times more likely than White drivers to be subjected to field interviews, in which a driver is questioned by police for something unrelated to why the person was stopped.

The SDSU study also indicated that of 259,569 traffic stops in 2014 and 2015, only 981 resulted in the discovery of contraband, Jones-Wright said.

“So what this data suggests is that traffic stops are not an effective tool for fighting crime,” she said.

Jones-Wright noted the study also said that “Black and Latino drivers were nearly twice as likely to be searched, but less likely to have contraband when compared to White drivers.”

“There is no public safety justification for why our police officers are disproportionately searching Black and Latino drivers,” she said.

Representatives of the San Diego Police Department were on hand at various La Jolla planning group meetings this week to address everything from ongoing residential burglaries to a recent attack on a woman in La Jolla Shores.

With the meeting time running out, Jones-Wright and Hill ended their presentation and Town Council trustee Chuck Merriman asked for a motion to oppose the PrOTECT Act now that both sides have been heard.

Trustee Christy Littlemore moved instead to postpone a vote, saying, “I don’t think we have enough proper information for the Town Council to make any vote either way.”

Noting that police officers spoke at length against the PrOTECT Act at the Town Council’s April and May meetings and that supporters’ June 9 presentation was much shorter, Littlemore said, “I don’t think this council has any place at this point [to vote].”

Trustee Cody Petterson supported a continuance, saying: “Unfortunately, it feels like information has gone past each other. There hasn’t been an engagement on the information.”

The motion to delay the vote failed.

Merriman then motioned to send a letter to LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, stating “that we as an organization do not support the PrOTECT Act in its current form and ask for other alternatives or research to be conducted rather than taking up the PrOTECT Act for the city of San Diego.”

Members of the public who were watching the meeting online tried to comment but were muted, with trustees saying there was no time for public comment because the Rec Center required everyone out shortly.

Several members of the online audience wrote their support for the PrOTECT Act in chat messages and objected to public comment being cut off.

“The council’s move to vote before public comment is authoritarian,” Maxwell Hoffman wrote. “We expect better.”

Town Council President James Rudolph called for a vote on whether to send the letter opposing the PrOTECT Act. Nine trustees voted in favor; six voted against.

Other Town Council news

New executive committee and trustees: The Town Council elected a new executive committee and welcomed six new trustees.

Rudolph, who served as Town Council president the past year, said he decided to forgo another term in that post for personal and professional reasons.

Rudolph will remain on the executive committee as immediate past president, replacing Ann Kerr Bache.

“I look forward to the new role and I look forward to the new executive committee,” Rudolph said. “And I look forward to continuing my role as an advocate for La Jolla.”

For the new term, Town Council Vice President Jerri Hunt was elected president; chief technology officer Rick Dagon was chosen as vice president; secretary Brooke Baginski and treasurer Merriman will remain in their current roles; and trustee Ron Jones was elected chief technology officer.

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava (left) swears in six new La Jolla Town Council trustees.
San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava (left) swears in six new La Jolla Town Council trustees, (from left) Jennifer Brown, Francie Moss, Treger Strasberg, Suzanne Baracchini, Karen Roque and Jana Farella.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

LaCava swore in the Town Council’s six new trustees: Suzanne Baracchini, Jennifer Brown, Jana Farella, Francie Moss, Karen Roque and Treger Strasberg.

“Thank you all for your community service,” LaCava said. “It warms my heart.”

Next meeting: The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14, online and at the Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. Learn more at lajollatowncouncil.org.