San Diego

A Matter of Trust: SDPD Seeks Public Trust in Trying Times

Dozens of community members and police voiced conflicting concerns to the San Diego City Council this week as officials considered whether to support a piece of state legislation that would change the legal standards for when officers can use deadly force.

Officers in the Southeastern Division know with phones everywhere one questionable move by one officer can derail trust quickly. While department heads have had to go on the defensive more than they’d like as of late, there is a proactive push for public trust that is quietly happening every day as well.

Members of the community have specific reasons for their distrust of law enforcement. 

Steven Luke spoke with both sides of this complicated relationship and filed these reports. 

Every week, a group of friends who've lived in Southeast San Diego for many years meets at Market Creek Plaza for coffee.

They tell NBC 7 their distrust of police stems from years of negative interaction with officers who’ve treated them, their family members, and neighbors differently because of their skin color.

"Even if we're a law-abiding citizen, we are apt to be pulled over, questioned detained, and searched," one man said. "They have to step out of the car, they're told they meet the description of a suspect somewhere. You know, at some point it has an impact on the psyche of that individual."

It's a complicated relationship back under the spotlight. Some members of San Diego's black community are sharing their experiences with local police. NBC 7's Steven Luke has more on this story.

They say the disparity in how minorities are treated by police leaves the community -- its young men in particular -- feeling less than whole.

"How do all the white guys that surrender seem to go home, at least to be tried, but black folks are tried on the street?" one man wondered.

"So now we have lessons about 'this is how you behave when police stop you, put your hands out, you don't move,'" a mother explained.

SDPD knows there are community members who don't trust its officers, but they are trying to change those opinions.

Officer Yovanna Gonzalez works the streets of Southeast San Diego as a patrol and community officer. She meets with students regularly, hoping to make a positive impression on the next generation. Her daily encounters also include meetings with local pastors and leaders who may have concerns.

In a complicated relationship between San Diego's black community and local police, one officer shares her side of the story with NBC 7's Steven Luke.

"Color is not a reason why we make stops," Officer Gonzalez said. She doesn't see the racial profiling some in the community associate with the badge. "It does bother me that they feel that way, and I just feel my job is to hopefully have that one contact I have with that person, that's not why they were stopped cause of their color,"

One of her most recent meetings involved a frank discussion with local pastors who want to help build bridges - but, like many, they're concerned about the current divide that is sometimes widened by high-profile arrests and the inevitable outrage that follows.

But before those community leaders give her their trust, they want to know who she is, and where she comes from.

At 14 years old both of her parents passed away - at 18 she was on her own.
Officer Gonzalez knows what's it like to beat the odds - which is why she's pulling for the people here - not looking for a reason to pull them over.

Gonzalez said she's someone who's beaten the odds. At 14-years-old both of her parents passed away -- at 18 she was on her own. She says she knows what's to play against a stacked deck, which is why she's pulling for the people in Southeast San Diego rather than looking for a reason to pull them over. 

Gonzalez tells NBC 7 that she isn't doing her job in a vacuum. She says most of her fellow colleagues share her passion, and says she's building these relationships in the community at the direction of the police chief.

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