Federal investigators looking into recent officer misconduct within the San Diego Police Department found officers were not held accountable and once they broke the rules, the misconduct continued undetected for years.
The 83-page U.S. Department of Justice audit was released for the first time Tuesday and included 40 recommendations to handle gaps in policies and practices in regards to handling misconduct investigations and hiring practices.
Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman said many of the recommendations have been adopted by her officers with the rest to be incorporated into department policy in the future.
Community Oriented Policing (COPS) Office Director Ronald Davis said they looked at 17 misconduct cases beginning in 2010. While the cases weren't linked, the audit discovered there were areas in need of improvement.
"I think the thing that stood out for us was the failure of leadership on small issues. Like anything else, the failure to focus on small issues leads to very big issues," said Davis.
The DOJ began its investigation after two former SDPD officers served time for misconduct on the job ranging from false imprisonment to sexual battery.
Former police officer Anthony Arevalos is currently serving prison time for sexual battery and false imprisonment charges he committed while patrolling the Gaslamp from 2009 to 2011.
Between March and mid-May 2011, Arevalos was one of 10 SDPD officers to come under investigation for criminal misconduct on charges that included rape, domestic violence, driving under the influence and sexual battery, the DOJ review states.
Out of the 10 cases, six resulted in the arrest of officers, according to the audit.
Another officer who was not formally charged was accused of touching a woman inappropriately during an arrest in the South Bay in 2013 and allegedly exposing himself to the woman.
Former Officer Christopher Hays was accused of giving several women improper pat downs on the job. Hays was released from jail earlier this month after he pleaded guilty in September to felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor counts of assault and battery under the color of authority by a peace officer.
Following Hays' arrest, former Chief of Police William Lansdowne requested the outside review before he retired after 10 years leading the department.
The DOJ's Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) performed the audit, paid for with federal grant money at no cost to the city.
"Right now people have to stand here and listen to the idea that there was lack of supervision and that there may have been lack of leadership. But the truth hurts, but selective ignorance is fatal," Davis said.
Recommendations include the mandate of two officers to transport female detainees, the recommendation that the department stop using "acting sergeants" during staffing shortages and the adoption of a mechanism to track complaints and update the Citizen Review Board.
There is currently no formal mechanism in place for the public to inquire about the status of a complaint.
Chief Zimmerman said some changes are already underway while others would require additional funding.
"We currently have 600 of our officers wearing body patrol cameras, making us the largest city in the nation with these many cameras. By the end of this year all of our patrol officers will be outfitted with these cameras," Chief Zimmerman said.
The SDPD has initiated a new training class focusing on possible biases held by individual officers and will offer a summer program with the same curriculum to members of the community.
She said they are committed to implementing all of the recommendations.
"When a recommendation is implemented, this will not be the end because we look at this as the beginning," she said.
By adopting the recommendations, Davis said the SDPD could be a model police department for others across the U.S.
“You’re still looking at a very progressive, sound and very effective police department,” he added.