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SF Police Commission President Suzy Loftus stepping down from post

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Police Commission President Suzy Loftus is stepping down from her role. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Police Commission President Suzy Loftus, the face of police reform efforts in San Francisco, will step down from her position to take a job at the Sheriff’s Department.

Loftus has led the commission as president for more than two years through a federal review of the Police Department, a new use-of-force policy aimed at reducing fatal police shootings, and the naming of the new outside chief, William Scott — all while facing off with the politically powerful San Francisco Police Officers Association.

“There’s a lot more work to do,” said Loftus, who added that she is proud of her record. “What matters is what did get done.”

Loftus, who had worked in the Attorney General’s Office under now-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, will take a job with The City’s Sheriff’s Department, according to chief of staff Eileen Hirst.

Loftus’ new role will be as the department’s assistant chief legal counsel and will begin Jan. 17. Her salary will be $190,242 annually.

“Suzy has helped navigate a federal review with the Department of Justice, worked to implement reforms and led the charge to select the next San Francisco police chief,” Mayor Ed Lee in a statement, in which he thanked Loftus and wished her luck.

Loftus is leaving the commission, according to Hirst, because Sheriff Vicki Hennessy felt the position could make calls on issues that would touch both the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department, and didn’t want the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Suzy Loftus is a forward-thinking innovator whose skill, and expertise in criminal justice and public safety policy will be a great asset to the Sheriff’s Department,” Hennessy said.

Loftus will replace Freya Horne, who will retire.

Loftus said the decision to find a new job has been a long time coming as her boss, Harris, the state’s former attorney general was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.

“I wanted to stay on to get us to the new chief,” said Loftus, whose last commission meeting will be Wednesday when a new president will be elected.

Time on the commission

Appointed by the mayor in 2012, Loftus has led the commission as president since 2014 and been a force for change, albeit mostly collaborative change.

Loftus’ tenure came at a tumultuous time for a Police Department plagued by scandals that include two racist text messaging incidents, numerous fatal police shootings, a track record of racially imbalanced policing and the resignation of Chief Greg Suhr last year.

A graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, Loftus worked as a prosecutor with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office before taking a position with the Attorney General’s Office.

Loftus had been commission president for less than a year when Mayor Lee tasked her with heading the reform of use-of-force policies, focusing on sanctity of life and at the same time shepherding the department through a federal review of the department.

That time also meant facing off with the POA, which opposed the use-of-force reform effort she led and targeted her specifically in a recent ad that opposed rules barring officers from shooting at moving cars. The union also blamed the latest police shooting incident on Loftus and her push for reforms.

“Their tactics have not been effective so far,” Loftus said.

Reaction

Most who worked with Loftus on the commission offered her praise, even if they had differing visions.

“Suzy was an incredibly hard working leader of the commission,” said San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang, a former commissioner. “While we did not always agree, she always tried her hardest to understand all points of view and try to build consensus.”

The commission’s vice president said her absence will be sorely felt.

“She was a tremendous champion of reform and what was right. She was a strong and steady voice. She was an independent thinker,” said Commission Vice President Julius Turman, who added that he will miss her leadership and collegiality.

Coalition on Homelessness head Jennifer Friedenbach agreed and added that Loftus leadership was a struggle at times that often pleased no one. “She was at the center of a lot of change,” she said. “She got shit from everybody.”

Former ACLU lawyer John Crew, who has been a harsh critic of the commission and SFPD, said Loftus moved the department forward.

“While we often disagreed on a variety of issues and decisions that she made, I never had any doubt that she was motivated to try and move the SFPD in a more positive direction,” said Crew. “The question now is, will her successor and commission hold the line against what is clearly, ongoing, vigorous resistance from the POA?”

It remains unclear with whom or when Mayor Lee will fill the vacant position, but Loftus’ absence will be felt. Even the vociferous activist group San Franciscans for Police Accountability had good things to say about her.

“Over the course of the last year, Suzy Loftus has become a leader on the commission for transformational reform. Suzy’s interactions with the mayor that led to an outside chief (one of our most important demands) and her work to insure the use of force lawsuit instigated by the POA was fully challenged in court, have left the commission in a good position to continue her legacy,” said David Carlos Salaverry of SFPA.

While the group wished her luck, they feared her loss could slow reform.

Meanwhile, the POA had little to say about her departure.

“We wish her well in her new position,” said Nathan Ballard, a political consultant for the union.

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