A handful of local residents and two city staff joined La Mesa Police Chief Ray Sweeney and nearly a dozen other police officers last week at Rolando Elementary School for the first of four community conversations and listening sessions scheduled by the police.
“2020 has been one of the toughest years for LMPD, and we can’t forget our past,” said Sweeney, who was appointed to the post last month. “But we can’t continue (in the same way) either. We are committed to keep learning, to keep improving. We will get involved in the community and work in partnership with the community. We cannot do what we do without you.
Sweeney has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the ministry’s communications efforts and the fact that officers are trained to be active listeners who take the time to hear what is being said.
Sweeney presented highlights of his six-point plan which focuses on building public trust with all demographics, working closely with the Police Oversight Board, and increasing diversity in the Department.
Although he stood up and spoke with a microphone while doing a slide presentation on a big screen, once he was done, Sweeney asked the small group to come closer and share their thoughts.
Residents spoke about the department’s treatment of people of color and called for more recruitment efforts to be made for minority communities. We talked about the way officers treat people with mental illness and people in crisis. And questions about the functioning of the Association of Police Officers.
A woman criticized the department and expressed frustration with some of the past behavior of officers, citing an incident between a black student and a white La Mesa policeman at Helix High School in 2018, a San Diego streetcar stop between a policeman white from La Mesa. officer and black man who led to civil unrest in May 2020 and a black woman beaten with a bean bag by a white La Mesa policeman last year.
She said that due to these events, she continued to have trust issues with the police and said there was a lot of work the department needed to do to regain her faith.
Sweeney said he understood his concerns and assured him the ministry was making changes in training that he said will bring positive changes.
Captain Matt Nicholass provided information on what is being done to provide homeless care in the city. Lt. Katy Lynch spoke of a program where officers without uniform take local children out fishing in their spare time. Daniel Paugh, the department’s head of school resources, explained new tactics for connecting with students, including advancing “Ask Me Anything” sessions.
The next community listening sessions are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, August 5 at Lemon Avenue Elementary School, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday August 12 at Maryland Avenue Elementary School and 6 p.m. at 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 19. at Northmont Elementary School.
Sweeney’s six-point plan is available on the town’s website at https://cityoflamesa.us/DocumentCenter/View/17524/La-Mesa-Police-Department-Action-Plan