Law Enforcement Unions Attack SD Councilwoman with Misleading Hit
Two local law enforcement groups sent nearly identical political ads to voters attacking San Diego Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe in her campaign to replace disgraced County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher in an August 15th special election by claiming she lied about reduced homicide rates in her district, but an email shows she used statistics provided to her office last year by the San Diego Police Department.
The attack ads were paid for by the San Diego Police Officers' Association, the union for SDPD officers, and the San Diego Deputy District Attorney's Association, the union for county prosecutors within District Attorney Summer Stephan's office, which use the same political consultant to create their campaign mailers.
The two ads assert that there have been "skyrocketing homicides" during Montgomery Steppe's tenure and that she "tried to fool voters" on her ballot statement when she claimed homicide rates had fallen by "50%" but the mailers assert that rates actually increased by "450%" in one year.
"Monica Montgomery Steppe tried to fool voters, claiming a 50% drop in district homicides on her ballot statement. The reality? A shocking 450% surge in just one year," the police officers' union piece reads.
San Diego Police Officers' Association mailer
But an email obtained by La Prensa San Diego sent to Montgomery Steppe's City Council office by a San Diego Police Department Captain last year detailed a drop in crimes in the department's Southeastern Division which covers nearly all of Montgomery Steppe's Council district.
"Also for murders, this time last year we were at 13 and currently year to date we are at 6, for a better than 50% decrease in homicides," Captain Manuel De Toro wrote on September 13, 2022.
The SDPD Captain's email also claims a 50% reduction in shooting violence.
Montgomery Steppe used that information to formulate her official ballot statement for the upcoming special election even though the statistics were not for a calendar year as the overall numbers are reported each year.
Police union officials objected to her use of the statistics and complained to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. The union argued that the area of SDPD's Southeastern Division does not overlap exactly with Montgomery Steppe's Council District and that the number was incorrect because it did not reflect the yearly totals. SDPD has eight divisions, but the City has nine council districts so the boundaries are not exact matches.
The Registrar eventually removed the contested claim from Montgomery Steppe's ballot statement.
The 450% increase statistic in the two political mailers used the timeframe of Montgomery Steppe's first year in office in 2019 when murders increased from two to eleven after Montgomery Steppe defeated incumbent Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, even though there were two consecutive increases in City funding to the police department in the year before Montgomery Steppe was elected and her first year in office.
The mailers also states that Montgomery Steppe "supports defunding our police" despite that fact that Montgomery Steppe has voted for every City budget during her 5 years on the City Council, including in June of this year.
The 2018-2019 fiscal year budget passed in June 2018 before Montgomery Steppe was elected increased police funding by $30.2 million. Councilwoman Cole and the rest of the Council voted unanimously for that budget in June 2018.
The following year, the department's budget was increased by an additional $4.7 million. Montgomery Steppe joined seven of her colleagues in voting for the new budget and only Republican Councilman Scott Sherman voted against it.
Montgomery Steppe also voted to approve the City's 2020 budget which included another increase in the police department's budget of over $65.4 million. Only Republican Councilman Chris Cate voted against the budget.
Montgomery Steppe voted for the 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 budgets which all included increases to the San Diego Police Department's overall funding, although she has argued for shifting police funding toward homeless outreach and other non-enforcement programs.
There were no apparent changes to any City policy approved during Montgomery Steppe's first year in office that would account for the increased number of homicides in her district used in the law enforcement unions' political mailers.
A review of crime statistics released by the City of San Diego in January 2023 shows Citywide murder rates of 50 in 2019, 56 in 2020, 57 in 2021, and 51 in 2022.
The police union endorses candidates for Mayor, City Council, State Legislature, and other political offices, although they have not endorsed a candidate in the race to replace Fletcher. The union has endorsed Assemblyman Brian Maienschein for City Attorney and the re-elections of Councilmembers Marni von Wilpert and Raul Campillo.
"[Montgomery Steppe] proposed a ten million dollar reduction in police overtime funding. She has falsely claimed in her ballot statement that there was a 50% homicide reduction in her district," union president Jared Wilson wrote in a statement.
The union president also attributed policy changes in the City during Montgomery Steppe's time on the Council, including creating positions for parking enforcement and other civilian staff, as well as the loss of over 550 police officers, as the reasons for historically high response times to priority calls.
"These developments have occurred during Monica Montgomery Steppe's tenure as the City Council Public Safety Chair. As violent crime rises we need more than the typical politician who lies about their record representing San Diegans on the Board of Supervisors," Wilson added.
The use of political attack ads is not uncommon for the San Diego Police Officers' Association, but it is unusual for the union of District Attorney prosecutors.
In 2022, the prosecutors endorsed both Kelly Martinez for Sheriff and Nathan Fletcher for Supervisor, and in 2020 they endorsed Todd Gloria for Mayor and City Attorney Mara Elliott for re-election as City Attorney. This year they have also endorsed the re-elections of County Supervisors Nora Vargas and Joel Anderson.
The Deputy District Attorney's Association has already endorsed Montgomery Steppe's opponent, Janessa Goldbeck, and last week joined her for a campaign announcement held in front of the downtown Hall of Justice where the District Attorney's office is located.
Montgomery Steppe, who is also a lawyer, is one of four candidates in the August 15th Special Election to replace Fletcher, who resigned in May after a female transit employee filed a lawsuit claiming he assaulted her and harassed her at work.
Goldbeck, a former US Marine Corps officer and now an executive for a veterans' nonprofit, licensed private investigator Amy Reichert, and former US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Paul McQuigg are also running in the special election.