San Diego's Way Of Informing Public Of Criminal Searches Examined



San Diego police are answering questions about how the department chooses to inform the public as officers search for criminals.

"If there's ever an error, it's going to be an error on the side of information to the public," said SDPD Assistant Chief Boyd Long.

Three high-profile cases have demonstrated how police inform the public when they're searching for suspects.

Thomas Parker assaulted at least seven women between June 2008 and July 2009. However, police only issued a public warning after the fifth attack.

Long said police didn't feel a public warning was necessary with the individual attacks, but only after they realized they were looking for a serial attacker.

"There was a point in that case when we realized it was a series-related crime and we felt compelled to get that information out to the public," Long said.

Parker killed himself in jail, and his case never made it to trial.

The SDPD also investigated John Gardner after jogger Candice Mancayo said he attacked her in December 2009 at Rancho Bernardo Community Park.

Police decided it was a robbery not an assault as the victim claimed, and although they immediately alerted people who were home about the attack by broadcasting from a hovering police helicopter, some residents said they never received the warning.

Gardner remained on the loose and eventually raped and killed Chelsea King in the same park he'd stalked two months earlier. He's now serving life in prison.

"I wish all of them we could go back in time and know something was going to happen," Long said.

After the Moncayo assault, police updated their policy to tell the public about assaults that happen in high-pedestrian areas.

That policy was tested recently after two teenage girls were raped in a Ranch Penasquitos park over Labor Day weekend. Leonel Contreras and William Rodriguez stand accused of the rapes.

Police sent messages over helicopter loudspeakers but only issued news releases about the rapes after residents contacted the media and media questioned police.

"I think we did a great job in that case," Long said.

Long said detectives were worried the suspects would flee to Mexico, and he added, "I think the balance (of informing the public) completely tips when we think the public is at risk."

When asked if police ever regret withholding information, Long said, "Oh, I'm sure there have been times; yes, of course."


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