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Police watchdog staff call out lack of accountability in agency

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San Francisco’s police watchdog might have expanded powers and a shiny new name, but the agency has trouble in the ranks that could impact police oversight and accountability measures, according to a union survey of the Department of Police Accountability obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

Formerly known as the Office of Citizen Complaints, the DPA is authorized to investigate all citizen complaints about police misconduct, and has newly been mandated to investigate police shooting incidents and conduct audits of the Police Department.

But beneath the surface, employees are frustrated with what appear to be ongoing problems within the agency.

“These mandates cannot be implemented when there is a lack of accountability within the OCC itself and when almost all OCC employees have no confidence in Director [Joyce] Hicks,” reads a SEIU 1021 letter sent to Mayor Ed Lee on Feb. 4.

Mike Koozmin/the S.F. Examiner
Joyce Hicks

This internal survey of the more than 30 employees is only the latest sign of trouble in the agency. In January an audit of the agency found it must focus on its most important cases and improve investigative techniques and oversight.

But this month’s letter from the union noted that the employee survey’s main takeaway was a vote of no confidence in Hicks.

“The OCC will never function effectively as long as Joyce Hicks is the director,” the letter reads, quoting one employee. “She is a narcissist who cares only about making herself look good.”

Among other findings, 83 percent of employees said morale is low, and 75 percent said the agency is not well run. An equal percentage said communication is bad within the agency and that it is understaffed.

Many of these responses, when compared to a similar 2006 Controller’s audit survey, seem to indicate worsening morale.

Only 50 percent surveyed said communication between staff and management is constructive and respectful. Fifty-eight percent said the agency’s strategy for the future does not reflect staff input.

The survey included anonymized statements about conditions in the DPA.

“I am afraid to express my opinions,” said one employee. “If I did, management would retaliate against me.”

Another employee said that “this agency is going in the wrong direction and its priorities are based on the director’s ego.”

“If I got another job I’d be gone in a heartbeat,” said another.

The Mayor’s Office and Hicks did not respond to requests for comment.

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