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Head of SF police watchdog pushed out over purported management failures

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The Executive Director of the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) Joyce M. Hicks listens to the public addresses during Police Commission meeting about use of force at San Francisco City Hall Room 400 on Wednesday, February 10, 2016. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special S.F. Examiner)
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The head of the San Francisco Police Department’s civilian watchdog agency was apparently forced from her position six months shy of her decade-long tenure, which would have given her roughly $100,000 in fixed annual retirement, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Joyce Hicks, who has led the Department of Police Accountability (formerly the Office of Citizen Complaints) since she was appointed in November 2007, announced her retirement Monday in an all-staff email, saying that she was leaving before her time to care for her elderly father, who was a Tuskegee Airman.

But sources have told the Examiner she was forced into early retirement because of low morale and a failure of leadership, including what some DPA employees have called her tyrannical leadership style.

Critics of her leadership of the agency have also said she was too focused on pushing through paperwork and meeting deadlines at the expense of robust police oversight. In previous interviews, Hicks argued that such claims were untrue and that her agency was doing its job.

She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The DPA, which was recently renamed and given expanded powers and a larger budget, is tasked with investigating all complaints of police misconduct and now all police shootings.

It was also recently given the power to audit the Police Department, which itself is going through a period of reform including a new chief and a raft of recommendations to implement from a federal Department of Justice review that was recently completed.

Hicks apparent ouster comes after Police Commission President Julius Turman was contacted by SEIU 1021 on behalf of their members at the DPA, which led to a meeting in late March where the issues with Hicks were reportedly discussed.

“The president spoke to people about Joyce,” said one source with knowledge of the union meeting who did not want to be identified.

Another source with knowledge of the meeting who also wanted to remain anonymous said that Hicks had “lost the confidence of [her] employees.”

Hicks, who earns $207,095 annually, tendered her resignation effective April 30, which means she will not be eligible for a full retirement. According to The City, anyone who is 60 or older and has 10 years of service is eligible for a guaranteed retirement payment. In Hicks’ case, that would have meant roughly a quarter of her current salary for the remainder of her life. Hicks was 55 when named by Mayor Gavin Newsom to lead the agency in October 2007.

Still, she will receive full medical benefits for life and can cash out her 188 hours of unused vacation.

As of Tuesday, her second-in-command, Eric Balthazar, was effectively running the agency.

The Examiner has previously reported about issues among rank and file, specifically a union-sponsored survey of the staff that indicated widespread dissatisfaction with Hicks. Former employees have said they fear that if they crossed her or spoke out she would retaliate against them.

In late February, SEIU Local 1021 sent a letter to the Police Commission and others at City Hall in which they urged Hicks to “cease and desist” from harassing employees who took part in a survey about department morale. The letter mentioned a threatening poem that she had sent to staff after the survey that seemed to indicate she was not afraid of what they said in the survey.

The survey found that 83 percent of employees had low morale and 75 percent thought the agency was not run well.

A letter sent earlier that month was more blunt about Hicks and her impact on the OCC. “The OCC will never function effectively as long as Joyce Hicks is the director,” declared the union on Feb. 4.

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