Did San Diego's Ex-Police Chief Use Junk Statistics to Push Anti-Pot Agenda?

When former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman addressed the city council about the possibility of allowing commercial pot businesses last year, she cited compelling data showing a link between crime and medical marijuana dispensaries. Now those statistics -- which are being cited by other municipalities in San Diego County -- have been called into question.

Zimmerman’s data involved 272 police radio calls for “burglaries, robberies, thefts, assaults, and shootings” at medical marijuana dispensaries over a period of two-and-a-half years. The stats weren’t enough to convince the San Diego City Council, which ultimately embraced manufacturing, cultivation, and retail businesses. But they did appear to persuade one member who issued a dissenting vote. And they have since been cited by officials in Oceanside and Imperial Beach.

A retired Redondo Beach police lieutenant and marijuana advocate who analyzed the call records has since described Zimmerman’s stats as sloppy, unprofessional, and ideologically driven. Voice of San Diego also reviewed the files and found that “the address listed on more than a quarter of those reports were to neighboring business, not a marijuana facility.”

Zimmerman’s stats also included incidents that don’t appear crime-related at all, such as woman who suffered a stroke in a parking lot shared with various medical offices.

Many of the reports do not list the specific suite number of a dispensary. Instead, they offer the general address of a shopping mall or office complex, so it’s difficult to tell whether a dispensary employee or customer was the reason for a police response. The stats also include dozens of crank payphone calls to 911 operators made in the parking lot of complexes that house dispensaries and other businesses, dozens of false security alarms and even a couple requests to tow automobiles.

Only a fifth of the total reports reviewed by Voice actually cite a dispensary as the location of a potential crime — some of which were undoubtedly serious offenses. A Mankind Cooperative security guard broke up a fight between several people on June 13, 2017. A Torrey Holistics employee was robbed at gunpoint on Sept. 15, 2016, possibly while making a delivery.

“This is their way of trying to undermine the passage of Proposition 64,” said the retired officer, Diane Goldstein, who now chairs the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. She hopes other local governments will think twice before basing any decisions on these statistics.

Zimmerman retired from the San Diego Police Department earlier this year. She has declined to comment on the allegations.