Search for new San Diego Police Chief begins

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — San Diego is about to begin the search for a new police chief to replace Shelley Zimmerman. She will be forced out of her job because she enrolled in a retirement program that ends next year.

It’s called the Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP. It allows retired city workers to collect a pension and a salary for another five years, at which time their city employment ends.

The search comes during years of the police department being understaffed and has been struggling with retaining and recruiting new officers. 

These are big factors in selecting a new chief.

Related Link: Community meetings to be held for public input on police Chief Shelley Zimmerman’s replacement

Last year, the police union floated the idea of reworking that retirement program to rehire experienced officers, which would include Chief Zimmerman. She had told the union at the time it’s worth looking into, indicating she would like to stay on the job, but nothing happened and now it’s too late.

On Tuesday, a memo from the Mayor’s Office laid out the process for selecting a new chief. A search firm will be hired next month with a budget of $1,000. There will be four community forums in late September, along with an online survey.

Candidate interviews come in December and the new chief will be selected in January.

The mayor’s April budget proposal did not include funds for a national search for a new chief, but pushback from five council members forced the mayor to add the funds in his May revise.

The mayor is not getting pushback from some councilmembers on two elements of his process for getting a new chief. 

The first is transparency.

"Everything we do here in the city is public and transparent except for the selection of a chief who will likely be here for many years to come. I think that’s the wrong signal to send to San Diegans," said Councilmember David Alvarez.

That signal is the identities of the panel interviewing the candidates will not be released. 

"We do not have a secret panel of individuals where there’s no transparency in the public accountability to those who are going to be interviewing the candidates for chief. We want to know who are those individuals, what are their backgrounds, where they come from and do they represent all of San Diego," Alvarez said.

Secondly, Councilmember Alvarez said four community forums is not enough for broad community input. He singled out City Heights, San Ysidro, Otay Mesa and Logan Heights as being left out.

Councilmember Barbara Bry echoed those remarks.

"It is very important to reach out to all parts of our community to get their input and hold the meetings in convenient locations for the people in those communities to attend," she said.

The Mayor’s Office said the schedule of community forums could change. For Councilmember Bry, public safety is paramount and public input is crucial in selecting a new chief.

"I think it’s very important to include the community input in developing the criteria for what we want in our next police chief and what we think the department should and can improve on," she said.

Here are important things we don’t know: How many members are on the panel interviewing the candidates? 

Can the public nominate individuals to be on the panel and why are the identities of the panel being kept secret.

These are important because the council has no role in this process except to vote on the candidate the panel selects as the new chief. 

Categories: Local San Diego News