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Lansdowne: SDPD needs outside audit following misconduct cases

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The San Diego Police Department is under intense scrutiny following multiple incidents of officer misconduct in recent years, including last week's arrest of Officer Christopher Hays.

In the midst of another sex crimes investigation into one of his officers, San Diego police Chief Bill Lansdowne is calling for an outside review of the department's misconduct policies.

The chief is going outside the department to have an audit group take a deeper look on how police can better spot an officer abusing their power. Some keeping a close eye on this say it's vital that recommendations from the report are put into place.

Chief Lansdowne told CBS News 8 the department tries to prevent potentially bad cops from joining the force, but it's not a perfect system, and some slip through the cracks.

"There is no absolute in this business. If an officer is going to go rogue, they can go rogue. And it takes us a while us to ferret it out, because they are all by themselves for a long period of time. You train them, you put them on the street, you got to trust them and then have a system to monitor them. And, that's what we're putting in place."

This action follows the recent arrest of officer Christopher Hays. He's accused of touching women during searches and forcing a woman to trade sexual favors to get out of a ticket. This is the second time in three years that a member of the San Diego Police Department has been accused of sexual misconduct with female detainees.

In 2011, then-Officer Anthony Arevalos was accused of sexually assaulting five women during traffic stops for suspected drunken driving in the Gaslamp Quarter. He was later convicted and sentenced to almost nine years in prison and is currently seeking a new trial. So far, the city has agreed to pay out $2.3 million to settle lawsuits filed by Arevalos' victims.

To try and prevent that from happening again, Landsdowne implemented a seven-step program that included added training and easier access for the public to file complaints. But now, just a few years later, Hays' arrest has many questioning if more needs to be done.

"We have a tendency to say when an officer comes in uniform this person is wearing a mantle of honesty and the truth of it is they are no honest than anyone else that we see," criminal defense attorney Allen Bloom said.

Bloom also says he knows honest officers and he knows those who have abused their powers.

"You shouldn't give any more credit to somebody just because they are an officer," Bloom said.

But that's not good enough for the police chief -- so he is asking for an independent audit into his department -- looking at the handling of misconduct cases, recruiting, the background process, ethics training and internal affairs system.

Brian Buchner, the president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, believes this sends the right message and it's an important message.

"It really comes down to management and leadership and setting the tone at the top and embracing what an independent auditor finds," Buchner continued.

Reports show internal affairs complaints have gone up slightly in the last couple of years, while the audit will identify deficiencies -- Bloom says too often recommendations are ignored.

"I would be very pleased if he would take a look at this audit and make it public and then take steps that would actually make a difference," Bloom added.

Bloom also notes that despite a police corruption scandal, people always want their officers to protect and serve honestly.

"We always see dramatic events create a furrer and then people calm down and then it goes in the closet and you forget about it. But the system goes on," Bloom said.

The city is allowing the chief to seek bids from two different audit groups. The Council will need to approve it, which will cost about $80,000 to $200,000 and could take up to a six months to a year and a half to complete. The final report will be made public.

"It's an outside review saying here's issues you should address and what should be implemented and we would do that," Lansdowne said.

San Diego Mayor-Elect Kevin Faulconer supports the chief's need for an audit. In a statement released to CBS News 8, Faulconer said:

"The type of behavior that is being reported is unacceptable and not reflective of the vast majority of men and women in the San Diego Police Department. I will be meeting with the Police Chief in the coming days to discuss an independent audit as part of my broader goal of rebuilding the police department and ensuring we are recruiting and retaining the best officers to serve San Diegans."

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