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New La Mesa Police Chief plans to bring changes after riots and controversial arrest

“We cannot forget our past, but we can never ever repeat it,” said Chief Sweeney.

LA MESA, Calif. — Policing in America has been challenged, especially in La Mesa. Its been over a year since the controversial arrest of Amaurie Johnson. Now, a new La Mesa Chief is taking over with many changes planned for the department. 

"It was heart wrenching,” said the new La Mesa Police Chief Ray Sweeney. 

In May 2020, La Mesa businesses were looted and vandalized. Plus, area banks were burned to the ground during riots. The initial protest called for justice for George Floyd and Amaurie Johnson who was arrested by La Mesa Officer Matt Dages who was later fired and charged for falsifying a police report. Johnson’s charges were later dropped. 

"I do know that I want to see change, whether that be police reform, racial targeting, prejudice, and things of that nature, police brutality, and people being held accountable; those are places we can start for sure,” Amaurie Johnson told News 8 in May 2021

RELATED: Amaurie Johnson speaks to News 8 about activism a year after controversial arrest in La Mesa

“We cannot forget our past, but we can never ever repeat it,” said Chief Sweeney. 

Now, Chief Sweeney is taking over the role after the former La Mesa Chief retired. Chief Sweeney has worked for the La Mesa Police Department since February 2001.

“For anybody that is a human being, to see what La Mesa went through, it was devastating. It was heart wrenching and we are calling out changes that absolutely needed to be," said Chief Sweeney. 

He says he is implementing a six step action plan which includes community police oversight, public trust, fair and unbiased policing, diversity in recruiting and retention, policy review and emergency preparedness. 

“It's creating something called 'community conversations,' getting out and meeting people but more importantly, listening,” said Chief Sweeney. "If we can leave an impression that we did everything we can to help you then we did our job."

Chief Sweeney says they are also doing more training on de-escalating situations. 

“All situations are emotionally charged. If we can walk away without an officer being hurt or somebody else being hurt, then that’s a win for everybody," said Chief Sweeney. "The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, but I am committed to doing that."

Chief Sweeney says they plan to start community conversations in August. They are looking at several more training programs to implement. 

WATCH RELATED: La Mesa organizations hold day of remembrance on anniversary of riot (May 2021)

RELATED: Fired La Mesa police officer at center of controversial arrest pleads not guilty

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