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The Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) promotes and fosters the exchange of information and knowledge between members, professional organizations, and the public for high-quality planning, design, and delivery of justice architecture.

Interview with Former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman – Upcoming Opening Plenary Speaker for the 2019 AAJ Conference!

By Erin Persky (Costino) Assoc. AIA posted 10-01-2019 11:50


In anticipation of the upcoming AAJ conference taking place in San Diego October 23rd-26th, I had the opportunity to sit down with Former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman to get a few teasers for her opening plenary talk. Make sure to get to sunny Southern California in time to participate in what will certainly be an engaging, interactive discussion.


  1. Can you tell me one of your most memorable moments as the Police Chief? (But, please, save the best stories for the conference!)

Being the Chief of Police comes with many late nights, weekends, and phone calls. There are no days off – but it also comes with perks. One such perk was the opportunity to throw the first pitch at a San Diego Padres [baseball] game. I threw from the rubber in full uniform, and I am proud to say I threw a strike. Later that same game, I was asked to the broadcast booth with Padres announcers Dick Enberg (may he rest in peace) and Mark Grant. I think they were impressed with my sports knowledge and it was fun reminiscing with Dick about him calling two Browns games that are part of the agony of Cleveland sports. 

[Editor’s Note: Chief Zimmerman is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and will share a bit about her transition to San Diego during her plenary talk.]

  1. How do you see community-level interventions: community policing, partnerships, etc. impacting Law Enforcement practices now and into the future?


Public safety is a shared responsibility. This means all of us play a huge role in keeping our communities safe. San Diego is a safe city and it is because of the courage and dedication of the men and women of the San Diego Police Department, our public safety partnerships and, equally important, our community partnerships. I believe we all would prefer to prevent crime than to respond to crime. By working together in a cooperative and collaborative relationship, we will continue to be a safe city. Our community needs police officers – and police officers need the support of their community. I am proud to say that San Diego leads the way in many innovative community partnerships, from community tours, to our stellar academy graduates, to encouraging critical conversations through a program called Game Changers. Community policing has and will always be a critical component of creating safe neighborhoods throughout our city. We must always look to enhance our current community partnerships and continually foster new ones, especially as police officers respond to the myriad issues that have arisen in the 21st Century. 

You cannot be a successful city without the support and trust of your community. To help gain support and the trust that comes with that you must look for unique and effective ways to forge partnerships within the community. There is not just one way to do this. This is not a one size fits all approach. For example, SDPD attends more than 400 community events every month. The more visible you are the more you will become part of the community.

To quote MLK, “It is hard to hate up close.”


  1. How can Police Chiefs across the county – and internationally – work together to improve local communities?

What may work in one neighborhood may not be successful in another: it is about finding the common ground and working together toward that common ground. It is also about sharing best practices. When I was Chief, we had several other departments look to our Police Department’s many successful programs as models to implement in their own areas. I also never hesitated to look at programs and innovations in other cities to see if it made sense to implement something similar in San Diego. Collectively we can and should learn from each other.

Let’s face it: those who want to prey upon our good citizens don’t care where their next victim comes from; often, they are just looking for their next easy target. Therefore, we as residents of San Diego need to care about each other. There are 123 different neighborhoods in the 340 square miles of San Diego. We all need to care about each other, and by doing so we will continue to transform our city to allow every neighborhood to thrive. 


  1. What do you love most about San Diego?

There are so many things I love about San Diego! It is very hard to pick just one, but the amazing weather is definitely high on my list. I love to ride my bicycle and participate in other outdoor activities, so I get to enjoy our perfect weather just about every day of the year. 


Chief Zimmerman will give the opening plenary on Wednesday, October 23rd. Learn more and register for the conference here.


Chief Shelley Zimmerman is the former Police Chief of San Diego and the first female Police Chief of a major city. During her tenure as Chief (2014-2018), San Diego experienced historic low crime rates, including the lowest homicide rate per capita of any of the largest cities in the country. In 2017, the City of San Diego had the lowest overall crime in the past 49 years and was named the safest large city in America. Chief Zimmerman has received numerous awards and citations throughout her career. Shelley Zimmerman joined National University in January of 2019 as a Chancellor-appointed professor focusing on public safety and leadership. Chief Zimmerman is an avid sports fan and often participates in athletic charity fundraisers.


Erin Persky is a San Diego-based Justice Facility Planner and can be reached at