Motorists stranded on the city's freeways can now expect to receive help from San Diego police officers, who will face disciplinary action if they fail to aid them, Police Chief Bill Kolender said Wednesday.
"The policy of the San Diego Police Department is, and has always been, to offer assistance to anyone in need of help--including stranded motorists," said Kolender, speaking at a meeting of the City Council Public Services and Safety Committee.
Although the freeways are within the California Highway Patrol's jurisdiction, Kolender said, "We think that we have an obligation to do something also."
Kolender said that aiding stranded motorists is one of many issues that officers study at the Police Academy. The policy, however, had not been made formal by written instruction until last week.
"This policy applies on all streets and freeways in the City of San Diego," Kolender said. Officers failing to follow the directive risk disciplinary action, such as an oral or written reprimand.
The issue of the safety of stranded motorists came to light in January when a 27-year-old woman told police that her car broke down on Interstate 5, and that during the
next four hours, police, sheriff's and Highway Patrol cruisers passed by without stopping. The woman later accepted a ride from a passer-by who raped her at gunpoint, she said.
After published reports of her story, other motorists came forth with claims that they also had been ignored by passing officers when their cars stalled on the city's freeways.
To ensure that officers obey the policy, Kolender said, police supervisors will monitor the way officers handle calls involving stranded motorists.
Kolender said it would be difficult to tell whether an officer ignored a stranded motorist. But, he said: "If we have any evidence of it, if we have a complaint, then we take action. We are confident this action will prevent similar incidents in the future."
Councilman Ed Struiksma, who informed the committee about the stranded motorist issue, said, "I think this is an outstanding policy that really does the job."
Struiksma said that San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy is considering instituting a similar policy.
On another issue related to the safety of stranded motorists, the committee directed the city manager's office to work with state and county officials to study a proposal for installing emergency call boxes on the freeways.
It would cost about $13 million to install a wire telephone system with phones every half mile along the 108 miles of freeway in San Diego, said Chuck Samples, an admininstrative analyst with the city's financial management department.