Police union president shares views on proposed police enforcement law with Pacific Beach residents
A police union president lambasted a proposed city ordinance aimed at preventing racial profiling in police stops when speaking before the Pacific Beach Town Council.
San Diego Police Officers Association President Sgt. Jared Wilson said during the council’s June 15 meeting that the proposed Preventing Overpolicing Through Equitable Community Treatment Act would favor criminals by severely impeding effective law enforcement techniques.
Also known as the PrOTECT Act, Wilson said if passed in its current form it would raise the legal standard for police stops and searches from “reasonable suspicion” to “probable cause.”
He said the proposal would also restrict police from questioning people about any matters unrelated to the offense for which they were stopped.
“Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma (City) bomber, was stopped for not having a license plate and speeding,” Wilson said. “The state trooper in Oklahoma arrested him for murdering hundreds of people. You can’t do that under the PrOTECT Act in San Diego. It’s that drastic.”
The PrOTECT Act is sponsored by District 4 Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe and drafted with input from civil rights and community organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Alliance San Diego. The goal is to end pretext stops by police that disproportionately affect minority groups.
According to the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency website, a 2016 San Diego State University study of San Diego police vehicle stops found that Black and Latino drivers were twice as likely to have their vehicles searched by police than white drivers, even though they were less likely to be found with contraband items than their white counterparts.
Wilson said increased training and other measures could address the disparity and said the act would charge officers with a misdemeanor for breaching the ordinance.
“A lot of it comes down to just a training issue,” Wilson said. “However, the PrOTECT Act does make it criminal. So that is drastic if you violate the PrOTECT Act.”
It would also prohibit police from stopping vehicles for equipment failures and other minor infractions, such as a broken taillight or expired license plate. Instead, they are to photograph the offense and have it addressed via correspondence.
Aside from eliminating a major source of pretext stops, the stipulation would free up police to address other concerns.
Wilson said such stops are an important tool in the police officer’s kit. He recounted a recent incident in southeast San Diego in which officers in a patrol car heard gunfire from a nearby park and soon after witnessed a car without license plates speeding away that direction. Based on reasonable suspicion, police stopped the vehicle for the license plate violation and, during a search, found the gun used in the shooting, which lead to the arrest of three individuals in the car.
“That stop and that arrest would not have occurred under the PrOTECT Act,” Wilson said. “The Supreme Court has said the police can stop and detain based on reasonable suspicion. This takes that away from us.
“When this is passed, criminals will know that,” he added. “If they’re smart, they’ll learn this in the county jail system that San Diego is a place to come and commit a crime.”
Some in the meeting audience inquired about councilmembers’ views on the proposed ordinance. Linus Smith, District 2 Councilmember Jennifer Campbell’s PB representative, said it hasn’t come before the City Council, thus his boss has no official position.
“As a general guideline, the councilmember is ... very pro-safety,” he said. “That is her history and she has a record of supporting the San Diego Police Department. So that’s sort of where we stand.”
Vicky Joes, chief of staff for District 1 Councilmember Joe LaCava who becomes Pacific Beach’s representative in December, said LaCava does not support the version submitted to the City Attorney’s Office.
Wilson, a San Diego police officer since 2004, was a supervisor from 2015 to 2020 at Northern Division, which serves Pacific Beach. He said portions of the PrOTECT Act might not pass legal muster if challenged. But his focus was on rallying meeting attendees to prevent it from becoming law in the first place.
“The PrOTECT Act is the most radical piece of anti-law enforcement legislation in America today,” Wilson said. “We won’t be able to question suspicious people. We won’t be able to stop dangerous vehicles, check for outstanding warrants, enforce probations or parole. It is pathetic.”
PB Town Council President Marcella Bothwell said the ACLU was invited to share a counterpoint to Wilson’s presentation, but no representative could attend.
“We were not trying to just put one side forward,” Bothwell said. “I think an honest discussion is so important. We need to come to some sort of reasonable compromise where everyone feels safe. I don’t want anyone growing up to see a cop and saying, I don’t feel safe. We need to go back where everyone feels safe in their neighborhoods.”
In a separate presentation, Lt. Rick Aguilar of Northern Division summarized police operations in Pacific Beach. Over the four-day Memorial Day weekend, police wrote about 150 citations for alcohol use and about 100 citations for illegal fire pits on the beach.
Aguilar said police cite any beach fire not located in the designated concrete square pits provided by the city or not being actively used for barbecues in a secure ring. This includes propane, wood and charcoal-fueled fires.
“Illegal fires are not in the city squares, whether they’re on the sand or elsewhere,” Aguilar said. “If they’re not actively barbecuing — and that doesn’t mean an officer walking up to the illegal fire pit and then you stick a marshmallow on a stick and start barbecuing that. That is not barbecuing. You will get a citation for that.”
Police have impounded some fire pits of repeat offenders, he added.
Aguilar also said the Bait Bike Program will return to Pacific Beach once funding to pay for the cellular service used in the initiative is received.
Outfitted with a tracking device that allows police to monitor a bicycle’s location without being visibly present, bait bikes are placed at sites recommended by the community, Aguilar explained. If stolen, the bait bike is easily traced and its alleged thief apprehended.
Asked whether offenders are part of bike theft rings or just individual opportunists, Aguilar said, “We won’t find out until we actually capture the suspect. How often are they serial thieves? I don’t have a percentage offhand, but a lot of these out here are.”