How San Diego Chief Shifted Gears In Four Years

With only limited time to make changes, Shelley Zimmerman ended the turmoil that had surrounded her department. She leaves on March 1, to be succeeded David Nisleit.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, facing mandatory retirement this year, had fewer than 1,500 days after her appointment to make changes in a department mired by claims of sexual misconduct and other crimes by a handful of officers. “There was a sense of urgency because the department at the time I took it over was in turmoil,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We needed to stop that immediately.” Zimmerman, 58, came up through the ranks, spending 35 years with the police department. “I knew what needed to be done, and that is what I did.” San Diego ushered in body-cameras in 2014, the biggest city at that point to do so. She helped lobby for officer raises, and oversaw a continuing decrease in crime rates. She led the charge in implementing dozens of reforms suggested by U.S. Department of Justice auditors who found systemic flaws within the department, allowing officer misconduct to go undetected. Despite an officer shortage, she refocused on community policing efforts that had fallen stagnant.

Zimmerman’s last day is March 1. Supporters say her time at the helm was a success. Assistant Chief David Nisleit has been tapped as her replacement. As the 30-year SDPD veteran prepares to take the helm, he’s turning his attention toward the challenges that still remain. He said he plans to focus on making the department more ethnically diverse as he attempts to fill 200 officer vacancies — an effort he plans to bolster with a national recruiting campaign, larger police academies and signing bonuses from other law enforcement agencies. He’ll also be tackling racial profiling after a study out of San Diego State University found that blacks and Latinos get searched more often by San Diego police officers.