"I think it's safe to say that we think traditional police-citizen review boards have a very negative impact on policing in any particular city," Burgreen said. "What we have been looking at are some alternatives which would open our department up more, which would involve the citizenry to an extent without taking the responsibility for discipline of the officers completely out of the hands of the chief of police."
In the last six months, police have received 360 complaints ranging from excessive force to inappropriate conduct, according to statistics released this week by the city manager's office. In nearly 30% of those cases, the complaints were sustained.
The statistics show that the public's perception that internal police investigations are "a charade" or "a whitewash" is false, Lockwood said.
"I think one out of three is some evidence that the department is serious about going after people when there is evidence, and they do something about it," he said.
Of the 24 complaints involving excessive force, however, none was sustained.
Lockwood said a recent case in which the Police Department disciplined an officer for using excessive force in the arrest of a Linda Vista family serves as proof that police can effectively investigate themselves.
But minority leaders have protested that other police officers should have been disciplined for the Jan. 16 melee pitting 16 officers against 64-year-old Antonio Pena and his two sons at their Linda Vista home.
Pena and his son, Francisco, 32, were hospitalized with broken noses and serious bruises after officers stopped Francisco and his brother Manuel, 29, on suspicion of drunk driving. Police later dropped assault charges against Antonio Pena.
In other recent cases, a black research scientist at UC San Diego complained that an officer roughed him up on Jan. 2 while he was waiting for a bus in La Jolla; the son of a black minister charged that police beat him Jan. 27 in front of his Southeast San Diego home; a 38-year-old mother claimed officers beat her family Feb. 8 after barging into her San Ysidro apartment; a black family alleged last month that they were physically abused by police after they were detained by mistake on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.
"The interesting part of that run (of alleged beatings) is, although we are not completely done with our investigations, on at least half of these recent cases it appears our officers have handled themselves in an exemplary fashion," Burgreen said. "We made mistakes on those two cases (involving Pena and the black family). On other cases, after all the facts are known, our officers did a pretty good job."
Burgreen acknowledged that publicity of the alleged police beatings--beginning with the Sagon Penn shootings in March, 1985--is responsible for the low public confidence in the department's ability to investigate its own officers.
Finding a specific review board that fits the needs of San Diego police and its citizens will be a delicate balancing act, said George Penn, assistant to the city manager.
"Sometimes police review boards have had a negative effect on morale and performance. That's why it is such a volatile issue. We have to look at what's best for our officers, what's best for our community," he said.
"I think we're open about it. . . . Our Police Department and our people want strong law enforcement. But we also want strong, just, fair and equitable law enforcement."