Eight months after police Chief George Gascón said he would resurrect intelligence-gathering at the San Francisco Police Department, the idea has yet to get off the ground as opposition continues to mount.
Gascón has repeatedly warned that The City is prone to a terrorist attack and police should be allowed to gather information on groups even if they haven’t committed a crime. Doing so, however, would require a change in Police Department rules.
That discussion now comes amid a growing chorus of protest to the idea, equating it to racial profiling and harassment. The Human Rights Commission will discuss Gascón’s efforts at a special meeting this summer, and opposition groups are already meeting weekly.
The commission is developing questions for the department about whether there are plans going forward with intelligence-gathering and if there are other issues, such as racial profiling and biased policing, according to Theresa Sparks, the commission’s executive director.
The City has strict limits on gathering intelligence and keeping files on people or groups, unless they are suspected of a crime. Those rules sprung from a scandal two decades ago involving an investigator who sold confidential SFPD information to an undercover spy.
San Francisco stopped gathering intelligence when several organizations, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued The City after the scandal hit in 1993. The lawsuit was eventually settled with assurances that the SFPD would revise its policies.
Two attorneys from the Asian Law Caucus are part of the effort. Summer Hararah and Veena Dubal specialize in civil rights and police surveillance. The two asked the Police Commission last week to hold off on any changes to the department’s rules.
“San Francisco has been on the forefront of this issue, but since 9/11 people have been apprehensive to voice their views,” Sparks said. “That seems to be changing now.”