Several city supervisors have sided with advocates in their call for San Francisco to include a commitment to police reform in a new contract with the police union that could cost The City millions more annually.
All three supervisors at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing Wednesday backed advocates urging Mayor Mark Farrell to use the contract as leverage against the San Francisco Police Officers Association. But the hearing fell short of answering exactly how the reforms could be embedded in the contract.
“We are in the midst of a national public conversation about police reform and I think it would be negligent for us to ignore that reality as we move through negotiations,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who led the hearing alongside mayoral candidates and supervisors London Breed and Jane Kim.
The SFPOA has been negotiating for pay raises with the Department of Human Resources since October, claiming that San Francisco police officers earn five to seven percent below market rates for law enforcement in the Bay Area.
The San Francisco Police Department had a $506 million budget for salaries and benefits this fiscal year, including $300 million on salaries alone for uniformed officers, according to the Budget and Legislative Analyst.
There were 2,147 sworn officers in the department as of January, including 1,848 who could be deployed to the street on full duty, according to Chief Bill Scott.
Advocates want the SFPOA to commit to police reform in writing under the contract in exchange for salary increases. The No Justice, No Deal Coalition views the union as a barrier to the SFPD implementing hundreds of recommendations for reform from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The SFPOA has an ongoing lawsuit against San Francisco after the Police Commission passed a new use-of-force policy in December 2016 prohibiting officers from shooting at moving cars and using the carotid hold.
An attorney for the SFPOA sent a letter to Cohen Tuesday calling the claim that the union blocks DOJ reforms “codswallop,” saying that the lawsuit predated DOJ recommendations.
“With the exception of the dispute over the manner in which the Police Commission implemented its use of force policy in late 2016,” attorney Gregg McLean Adam began, “the POA has not filed a single challenge, asserting a labor right or otherwise, to impede, delay or otherwise stand in the way of the implementation of any DOJ recommendation.”
But the union has also placed a measure on the June ballot that Scott called the “antithesis” of the DOJ recommendations.
The measure would create a new policy for officers to use stun guns, commonly known as Tasers, that the Police Commission could not substantially change without further approval from the Board of Supervisors and voters.
At the hearing, Breed and Cohen also echoed advocates’ concerns over the mayor’s ties to the police union. Earlier this month, Farrell endorsed the ballot measure from his political allies.
“The mayor’s recent endorsement of the POA’s Taser ballot initiative made him quite frankly the only elected official to take such position,” Cohen said. “The mayor is willing to take the side of the POA even in the face of research, even in the face of strong data and public sentiment.”
Farrell has oversight over the contract negotiations as mayor. As previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, he also shared an advisor with the SFPOA until recently, when political consultant Nate Ballard took a temporary leave from the union to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
“I think that there is a real conflict here, especially with what’s happening around negotiations for this contract, and it gives me a lot of pause,” Breed said.
Breed asked the City Attorney’s Office to decide, possibly in closed session, whether there is a conflict of interest.
In response, Farrell called the allegation “election-year shenanigans.”
“There is absolutely no conflict of interest,” the mayor said in a statement.
Ballard also balked at the comment, since he stepped away from the police union when Farrell became mayor.
“If London Breed wants to get elected mayor, she would be better off focusing on the big issues that matter to her constituents,” Ballard said. “Instead she’s playing small ball. Vindictive attacks like this are not winning London Breed a single vote. Voters want results, not theatrics.”
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