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Budget committee weighs cuts to DA’s special police investigation unit, citywide internet project

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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s citywide fiber internet initiative and the District Attorney’s multi-million dollar unit that investigates police officers when they shoot people became targets for budget cuts Friday.

Supervisor Malia Cohen, chair of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, blasted District Attorney George Gascon’s three-year old Independent Investigations Bureau for failing to charge any officers involved in police shootings during the committee’s review of Mayor Mark Farrell’s two-year budget proposal.

Once a supporter of creating and funding the bureau, which was established to investigate officer involved shootings, along with in-custody deaths and officers’ excessive use of force cases, Cohen has now become its chief critic. She made a motion to cut the $2.7 million in the budget for it.

“This is about three years later. We don’t have anything. I am rethinking is this a good use of taxpayer dollars,” Cohen said. “Is this a good use of money? When you think about homelessness, when you think about the need for housing, how can I convincingly say through an argument that we need to continue to put in $2.7 million into this bureau when it hasn’t yielded anything? You’ve had three years. It just seems like we would be foolish to continue to pour money into this bureau.”

Cohen sharply criticized Gascon last month for his decision not to prosecute officers who fatally shot Mario Woods and Luis Gongora Pat. In announcing his decision, Gascon said that both men had knives and there wasn’t enough evidence to prove officers acted unreasonably in defense of themselves and others.

However Gascon did say he thought the shootings were not necessary, noting there is a “gap in the law” that allows officers to use force against a suspect when it is deemed reasonable.

Gascon’s chief of staff, Cristine Soto DeBerry, however, defended the bureau for bringing a higher quality to investigations of officer involved shootings, with more timely results and better fact gathering.

“It has been successful, Supervisor,” DeBerry said. “Prosecution is not the only metric by which you should measure this.”

She said that “the cases are what they are. What is important is that we make sure that we do the best investigation that we can.”

DeBerry added that one hiccough in the initiative is how the District Attorney and the Police Department have yet to finalize a contract that would make the District Attorney the lead investigator in these cases, not the Police Department, along with other investigative parameters. Negotiations over the contract have dragged on for years.

“We still do not have an MOU signed with the [Police Department] that gives us the investigative lead on these cases. That has been a very lengthy process with the Police Department,” DeBerry said. “Chief [Bill] Scott has indicated his support and we are in meet and confer with the union over that. It has taken longer than our office would have hoped it would take to get that completed.”

Cohen was not convinced. “What good is having a good investigation if it doesn’t yield any desired outcomes? And let’s be clear, the desired outcomes would be convictions,” Cohen said.

She concluded: “I make a motion to completely defund the IIB.”

The committee did not actually vote on the motion, but postponed its decision until a hearing on Monday, when the committee will also decide whether to cut funding for police staffing and funding to allow the Police Department to purchase Tasers for the first time.

The public will be allowed to testify Monday at the committee hearing.

The committee is making cuts to the budget and will then use the money to fund other priorities in a process traditionally referred to as “add-backs.”

City-wide Fiber Internet

San Francisco’s city-wide fiber internet initiative has stalled and could come to a halt altogether Monday if the committee decides to cut $2 million budgeted for the effort.

The San Francisco Examiner first reported that the initiative — to deliver 1 gigabit per second broadband fiber internet service to all businesses and homes — stalled this month after Farrell decided against placing a revenue measure on the November ballot to fund it, citing a poll that showed it wouldn’t pass.

The City also indefinitely postponed issuing a request for proposals this month for three previously-selected teams to bid on building the more than $1 billion project.

Instead, the Department of Technology is asking to spend $2 million to advance the effort, sometimes called FiberSF, through market research and analysis of construction costs.

But the committee raised questions about the effort and will vote Monday on whether to cut the funding, which would kill the project.

“I’ve been speaking to some of my colleagues on the board who also have some concerns about FiberSF in general, that maybe this isn’t what we should be doing and that by the time we do it it will be antiquated somewhat,” said committee member Sandra Fewer.

Linda Gerull, executive director of the city’s Department of Technology, called on the committee not to cut the funding.

“This is important. It is very important to the city. Putting this infrastructure in place is really preparing us for what’s coming in the next five to 10 years,” Gerull said.

The proposed $2 million includes $250,000 for a project manager, $300,000 for a market study and revenue projections, $1.1 million for construction analysis and $400,000 for a network pilot.

“We heard from the firms … that the risk factors on this project were number one, truly understanding what the revenue would be and then number two the construction,” said Gerull. “We all know that this is a complex urban environment and we would certainly want to push down those constructions costs as much as possible. The way we take risk out of this project is by understanding that and quantifying that to the providers. This also allows them to sharpen their pencil around what the cost will be. It will save us money if they do not price risk into the project plan.”

A budget analyst report said that “additional analysis is needed and RFP will not be issued in FY 2018-19.”

“The City will issue the RFP when the unknowns around revenue and construction can be quantified and described in the RFP which will reduce risk to the City and partners,” said Brian Roberts, Department of Technology’s policy analyst, in an email.

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