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New SDPD chief holds town hall

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ENCANTO (CBS 8) – The San Diego Police Department's new chief answered tough questions from San Diegans in a town hall meeting Monday night.

Overshadowed by the recent police sex scandal, community activists attended the meeting to make sure San Diego's new top cop Shelley Zimmerman doesn't forget about efforts to stop racial profiling.

"Racial profiling has been happening for years and has an impact on thousands and thousands of young men of color," San Diego NAACP President Lei-Chala Wilson said.

It's the first of several town hall meetings in San Diego council member districts. District 4 council member Myrtle Cole hopes tonight's meeting in Southeast San Diego with Chief Zimmerman will continue to bring hope on how to build a safer and trusting relationship with police.

"Racial profiling and gang suppression is something of a concern in our community. We are going to open the dialogue and start communicating," Cole said.

In January, then-assistant chief Zimmerman stood next to Chief Lansdowne to hear criticism over the lack of tracking race in traffic stops. The force used to be on the forefront in collecting data, but not so much anymore. Now Zimmerman is assuring the community the issue of racial profiling, gangs, high presence officers is still a priority.

"It is so critically important that we maintain and have the public's trust," Zimmerman said.

In the town hall meeting the chief was asked if she believes racial profiling is an issue in San Diego.

"Absolutely, because the community says it's an issue so absolutely it's an issue," said Zimmerman. "If you believe if you have been racially profiled out there we need to effectively communicate with everyone."

CBS News 8 spoke to a 16-year-old girl, with her mother's permission she told us she has been targeted by police because the park she was in was in a gang neighborhood.

"We don't do anything, we are here at the park, it's teen night, but no one wants to come if they are going to be harassed by the police," said Raniesha Catlin.

One person attending the forum doesn't think racial profiling is an issue and praised SDPD for it's efforts for safer neighborhoods.

"There are good people and there are very bad people. How do you find out which ones are which? It's confusing and it's not really racial profiling," said Marisa Ugarte. "It's just trying to see if that person in that car or walking isn't going to kill someone. There are mistakes but there isn't one person on this earth who doesn't have one kind of racism.

Throughout the chief's remarks Zimmerman echoed addressing racial profiling comes down to open discussions like these town hall meetings and people were believed in her message.

"I think that's part of the problem is that a lot of times when we are pulled over we don't know why we are pulled over. Just getting that information on what led to that stop can go a long way in resolving that problem," said Darren Sherrill with Father2Child.

A report showing how often SDPD makes contact with minorities will be released in May.

Body-mounted cameras also hold officers accountable. By June, cops in central, southeast and mid-city will add cameras to their uniforms. The chief also eased concerns about privacy and possible manipulation of video.

The next Meet the Chief Town Hall meeting is scheduled on Wednesday March 26, with District 9 Council member Marti Emerald for a meet the Chief from 6:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m. It will be hosted at the Cherokee Point Elementary at 3735 38th Street, San Diego CA 92105.

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