At least five members of a citizens advisory panel say they want to continue reviewing San Diego Police Department policies and easing police-community tensions after July, when their appointments are scheduled to expire.
The Citizens Advisory Board on Police-Community Relations, a 13-member panel created by the San Diego City Council in 1985 in the wake of two controversial shootings involving police, is expected to discuss at a regular meeting today the pros and cons of becoming a permanent group.
In addition, board members are studying the feasibility of forming a police review board that would investigate allegations of police brutality and abuse.
Police Chief Bill Kolender said Tuesday he has no initial objections to the board continuing its work with the Police Department.
"At this point, it's been very positive," Kolender said. "They've done a lot of things to help us do our job better. On the sense of continuing, I'd like to meet with them to discuss what they'd do."
But Kolender said he sees no reason for the panel to even explore the idea of recommending that the City Council appoint a stronger police review board.
"I don't see any need for it," said Kolender, who repeatedly has described police review boards as kangaroo courts. "A police officer should have the same due process of law as a citizen--tried first by their peers and a court. Experimentation through the '50s has shown it is a very negative thing . . . for the police and the community."
In a little over a year, the citizens advisory board has brought about substantial reform within the Police Department, said Chairman Murray Galinson, president of San Diego National Bank.
At the panel's urging, Galinson said, police have revamped their human relations training; stopped the practice of detaining and interrogating undocumented aliens who have not committed crimes, and adopted a policy that requires Kolender twice a year to give the City Council statistical information regarding citizen complaints against individual officers.
The board also held eight community meetings throughout San Diego to help members assess the state of police-community relations. While citizens at many of the meetings expressed support for police, the department took a drubbing at an August hearing in Southeast San Diego, where angry black speakers said the minority community and police were "at war."
Five of six board members contacted by The Times this week said they favor allowing the board to continue its work beyond this summer. The board originally was assigned a one-year term in 1985, then the City Council granted a 12-month extension last year.
"I think it would be real helpful to keep the board in existence to kind of monitor that process and make sure all the good things we see on paper do see the light of day," said Andrea Skorepa, executive director of Casa Familiar, a youth program in San Ysidro.
Any recommendation to extend the life of the panel must be approved by the City Council.
"I would like to see what they're looking to attack, where they could be beneficial," Councilman Ed Struiksma said. "If they could demonstrate that some good could come of it, I would probably be supportive."
Ty Reid, former president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn., was the only board member reached by The Times who opposed prolonging the panel.
"I think right now we have an excellent board," Reid said. "That doesn't mean we'll always have an excellent board. A few things can change and make life miserable for working cops. . . . If a perceived problem develops in the community, I think two years down the line it's better to put a new ad-hoc committee in."
Reid said he opposes a police review board even more strongly.
"The POA would never stand for it," said Ternot Mac Renato, a San Diego City College teacher who sits on the advisory board. "I think they see police review boards as a real threatening thing that could be misused. . . . Anything could be misused."
Kolender offered high praise for the way his internal affairs investigators respond to citizen complaints against officers. He said the Police Department sustains 24% of all such complaints.
"To the best of my knowledge, there are no complaints or communication that our investigations are not done in a proper manner," Kolender said.
Nevertheless, several board members expressed an interest in learning more about police review boards because so many citizens spoke in favor of such panels during the community meetings.
In November, the advisory board attended a seminar on police review boards by three U.S. Department of Justice officials. Galinson called the seminar "inconclusive."