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SF police commission, union at impasse over new use-of-force policy

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(Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

More than three months after the San Francisco Police Commission voted on a reformed use-of-force policy for officers, the police department is far from implementing the policy because negotiations with The City’s police union have broken down.

Late Friday, The City declared an impasse to the negotiations with the San Francisco Police Officers Association. The new use-of-force policy, unanimously passed in late June by the commission, came in reaction to a series of fatal police shootings, the first of which was the killing of Mario Woods on Dec. 2, 2015.

But the impasse comes as good news to some who have repeatedly said the commission should not back down when it comes to the police union’s stonewalling on reforms. Such a position was made with less force in the recent release by the federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services assessment of the San Francisco Police Department.

“Today, the police commission declared impasse in its negotiations with us over “use of force” policy revisions,” said a POA press release on Friday. “After extensive input by community stakeholders, and months of give and take, the police union has made many concessions. We agree with the commission on 99.9% percent of the new policy. The major sticking point is a policy that would allow police officers to protect civilians from moving vehicle attacks like the one that recently occurred in Nice, France.”

The union went on to say: “Commission members agree with us behind closed doors, but they refuse to put it in writing. We need it in writing, and so we can’t sign off on the policy yet.”

On Friday, Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin released a statement in response to the reported impasse on the use-of-force policy.

“While the POA and the Police Department agree on a majority of the policy, we could not agree on the issue of shooting at moving vehicles,” the statement said. “The Department has a responsibility to protect its police officers and the public they serve. 21st Century policing and the DOJ recommendation clearly indicates that officers should not shoot at moving vehicles, as this poses a significant danger to all parties, including the public.”

Chaplin’s statement also noted that no future meetings are scheduled and that the SFPD will continue to evaluate its options.

In a phone conversation, Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said the decision was made after long and good-faith negotiations with the union.

“I would have hoped that we could get consensus and agreement,” Loftus said.

Loftus noted the commission promised the people of San Francisco “sustained, lasting reform” and that is what she aims to give them. “That is what we are not going to compromise on.”

She added that comparing the policy on shooting at moving vehicles to a terrorist attack in Nice, France, where the suspect was armed, is comparing apples with oranges.

In the past, police in San Francisco have confronted suspects who used vehicles as weapons. But they did not open fire on them. Instead they used other vehicles to bar their path.

Police watchdog and former ACLU lawyer John Crew said the impasse was a welcome move by a commission that should have long ago put into practice the policy they voted on in June.

“It’s certainly good but very belated news that the police commission finally had the backbone to stick to the position that they committed to in June,” he said, noting that if all department reforms go through this elongated process. “We will all be dead before all the COPS recommendations are implemented.”

Crew has said that the union has no legal right to stall the process over matters not related to working conditions and that the commission should never have negotiated over these issues in the first place.

As for next steps, Loftus said any decision will have to been made by the whole commision on whether or not there is arbitration over the matter.

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