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Police union called hypocritical for highlighting alleged gender discrimination among ranks

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Sgt. Yulanda Williams, left, seen here with Chief William Scott during a town hall meeting in March, is one of many officers calling the Police Officers Association hypocritical for its ad criticizing the Police Department for its lack of women in the command staff. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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A new advertisement paid for by the San Francisco Police Officers Association that calls out The City’s police chief for promoting too few women into leadership positions is being called hypocritical by union critics.

Those critics say the POA has far fewer female employees in leadership positions than the department as a whole and has opposed anti-bias reforms.

The ad, a radio piece, argues that newly appointed Chief William Scott’s reorganization of the department leadership included too few women and that more women in leadership positions will help the department move forward.

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“Unfortunately, the most recent round of eight promotions to the command staff did not include a single female candidate,” said POA President Martin Halloran in the radio spot, adding that the department was originally one of the first in the country to hire female patrol officers in 1975.

But such claims are coming from a union that has a mixed record on diversity and bias, and one that seems to have amnesia when it comes to how women came into the ranks, say union critics.

Sgt. Yulanda Williams, who heads the black police group Officers for Justice, recently resigned from the union along with a handful of other officers because she said it has failed to represent minority officers, among other shortcomings.

Williams said Monday that the union’s ad attacking the chief fails to note the POA’s lack of female leaders.

In fact, she pointed out, of the 32 members of the POA Board of Directors, only two are female. And none of the five-person elected executive board are women, she added.

“The POA can’t really say they promote and support diversity,” said Williams, who noted the ad appears to show the union’s forgetfulness. The department was forced to diversify because of a bias lawsuit, not because of any actions by the POA, which reportedly opposed women in the patrol ranks.

A 1973 federal consent decree, which stemmed from a discrimination lawsuit, forced the department to allow women into patrol positions in 1975.

John Crew, a police watchdog and former ACLU lawyer, agreed with Williams.

“It takes a lot of nerve for an organization that fought tooth and nail both the gender and racial integration of this department to run an ad like this,” said Crew, who added that this is simply a campaign to rehabilitate their image. “As recently as the last couple years, in the pages of their own newspaper, they were bragging about their resistance to affirmative action being among their most important and successful battles in the past.”

In fact, said Crew, the POA strongly opposed and undermined the department’s only female chief, Heather Fong.

POA consultant Nathan Ballard said the comparison makes little sense since union leaders are elected.

“It’s apples and oranges. The department appoints Command Staff personnel while all members of the SFPOA Board of Directors, the Executive Board, and the President are elected by the members,” said Ballard in an email.

What’s more, he added, is that Halloran has made strides to get more females in union leadership with the creation of the Women’s Action Committee.

Bayview Station Sgt. Tracy McCray, who chairs the committee and is an elected station representative on the POA’s Board of Directors, said the comparison is unfair.

“It’s just disheartening,” she said of the Police Department’s promotions that passed up women leaders.

The POA’s elected positions, on the other hand, are not the same as appointed positions since officers have to step forward if they want to run, McCray said. In her case, POA leadership sought her out.

“Marty reached out to me. I had never really thought about being on the POA. Even Gary Delagnes had reached out to me,” said McCray, who now heads an effort to get more women to join union leadership.

The topic of female leadership was addressed by Scott at a March 1 Police Commission meeting, at which he said he’d like to promote more women. But since so few are in the ranks, it’s not as easily done as the union might want. The ratio of rank-and-file officers is about the same as the number of females in the command staff, Scott pointed out.

“We’re basically a little bit higher with command staff members,” said Scott.

The command staff is 19 percent female, he said. Rank and file is 15 percent female.

Two sworn female officers are in the command staff: Deputy Chief Denise Schmitt and Cmdr. Ann Mannix. But three of the 10 district stations are under female captains’ command.

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