Ex-Police Chief Used Misleading Stats to Lobby Against San Diego Dispensaries

San Diego’s former chief of police has been caught in a series of lies about marijuana crime statistics.
Ex-Police Chief Used Misleading Stats to Lobby Against San Diego Dispensaries
Courtesy City of San Diego

Former Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman presented misleading data to the San Diego City Council last year in an effort to sway them against approving cannabis businesses, an investigation has revealed.  Zimmerman retired from the San Diego Police Department in March of this year.

At a meeting in September 2017, the council was considering proposals to permit a legal supply chain of cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and test labs in the city. Zimmerman appeared before the council members and warned them not to allow more pot businesses.

“The negative consequences and secondary effects of the legal marijuana industry being allowed to operate on a larger scale in our city of San Diego are enormous,” Zimmerman said. “I urge you not to allow any further marijuana facilities within our city.”

To back up her claims, Zimmerman cited 272 radio calls for police service at medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. She said the calls were for “burglaries, robberies, thefts, assaults, and shootings, just to name a few.”

She also told council members that marijuana businesses made neighborhoods unsafe so they should not allow more.

“Some of you have said that public safety is also your No. 1 priority,” said Zimmerman. “I hope you do keep that in mind when you cast your vote today.”

Activists Question Chief’s Claims

Terrie Best, the San Diego chapter chair of Americans for Safe Access, told High Times that she and others attending the meeting were puzzled. She said San Diego’s cannabis community had been monitoring crime at dispensaries.

“We were all there with our mouths hanging open because we have been watching,” she said. “Of course we want to know if there is crime in our community, so we have a watch. I think everybody wondered what she meant because that wasn’t what we were finding.”

Unwilling the leave the chief’s claims unchallenged, Best and members of ASA filed a request for more information under the California Public Records Act. To analyze the data, Best sought the assistance of retired Lt. Diane Goldstein of the Redondo Beach Police Department. Goldstein is also the board chair for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a group of law enforcement professionals and others working to end the War on Drugs.

After completing her analysis, Goldstein characterized Zimmerman’s presentation as “sloppy, unprofessional, and based on ideology,” according to local media reports.

Chief Cites Police Calls Unrelated to Pot Businesses

More than 25 percent of the police service calls cited by Zimmerman was not actually to a dispensary, but rather an adjacent or nearby business that shared a street address in an office building or shopping mall. Further, many of the calls were not for criminal activity.

One incident was a call to assist a woman who had fallen in the parking lot of medical office building and was having trouble breathing. The reported address was for a pain management center, but the call was included in Zimmerman’s statistics because a dispensary is also located in the same building and shares the parking lot.

In another call, a concerned driver called to report a truck being operated recklessly on the freeway. Because police happened to meet the caller for details on the same block as a dispensary, Zimmerman included that call in her numbers, as well. Other calls noted by the former chief were prank calls from parking lot payphones, false alarms from security systems, and tow truck requests.

Public Servant or Authoritarian?

Goldstein believes that Zimmerman and SDPD were attempting to thwart the will of the people.

“This is their way of trying to undermine the passage of Proposition 64,” she said.

Zimmerman’s appeal had its intended effect with a least some council members. Councilwoman Lori Zapf called for her colleagues to join her in heeding Zimmerman’s warning.

“I think we should listen to our police chief,” said Zapf. “We were elected if nothing else to oversee public safety and we’re just absolutely going down the wrong road.”

In the end, Zapf was in the minority and the council voted 6-3 to allow up to 40 licenses for cannabis businesses by the city.

But the former chief’s words are still having their intended effect in other cities in San Diego County. Chief Frank McCoy of the Oceanside Police Department recently used Zimmerman’s statistics in a bid to influence the city council there not to approve cannabis businesses. And opponents of a cannabis ordinance in Imperial Beach also cited the comments from Zimmerman at a meeting of that town’s city council.

When a reporter asked Zimmerman to comment on the information she presented to the city council, the former chief declined to be interviewed.

“I’m really not interested in talking to you,” she said before hanging up.

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