A new body headed by the District Attorney’s Office tasked with investigating police shootings and other misconduct among officers is pending mayoral approval for a funding request, or a charter amendment could be placed on the ballot by six supervisors.
As of the San Francisco Examiner’s press time, negotiations continued over how the bureau will be created.
No matter how it is born, the Independent Investigations Bureau will be a 14-person team in the District Attorney’s Office — housed separately — and tasked with investigating police shootings, in custody deaths and allegations of excessive force. The unit would also prosecute cases were criminal conduct is found as well as review court cases impacted by misconduct.
As it stands, the Police Department investigates officer shootings as well as other wrongdoings. The District Attorney’s Office conducts an investigation into whether criminal wrongdoing has occurred in shooting incidents, but their investigators are reliant on the Police Department as the lead agency.
The bureau is just the latest proposal concerning police oversight. On June 7, voters widely supported a measure mandating that The City’s police watchdog agency, the Office of Citizen Complaints, launch its own investigation after every police shooting that results in an injury.
But District Attorney George Gascon and Supervisor Malia Cohen, who put forward the charter amendment, contend another body is required even as others claim the bureau would itself have conflicts of interest.
“The creation of this unit is critical to our ability to fairly evaluate cases that involve allegations of unconstitutional policing,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “No other agency is empowered to do this work locally. The DA is the only one with the authority to bring criminal charges locally.”
Gascon already asked the mayor in its budget request for the $1.9 million to pay for the bureau. Meanwhile, Cohen’s charter amendment would have the same result, but would lock in funding at 0.34 percent of the combined budgets of the Police Department and DA’s office.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi is not enthusiastic about the bureau’s creation.
“I think it’s a huge conflict of interest to have the DA investigating [officer-involved shootings] and police misconduct,” said Adachi. “They’ve never prosecuted an officer in an OIS and it will continue that way.”
Instead a truly independent body should be created or the OCC should be given even more independence, Adachi said.
But District Attorney Office spokesperson Max Szabo said there is no other local body that can prosecute officers, so that role should be expanded and made more independent.
“Best practices and commonsense dictate that agencies don’t investigate themselves due to the inherent conflict of interest. Moreover, when police investigate themselves the public has less faith in the outcome, even where the use of force was justified and police have nothing to hide,” said Szabo. “We would welcome the Attorney General or the U.S. Attorney to take over this important work, but in their absence we have to make sure this work is done well. That’s why the DA has proposed that this unit be completely separate-both in terms of protocols and physical location-from those prosecutors and investigators who work directly with police on a day-to-day basis.”
The bureau would also release their findings on each shooting case and publish an annual report.
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