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SFPD watchdog’s head to retire after long tenure

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Joyce Hicks is retiring as head of the Department of Police Accountability . (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)
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The head of San Francisco’s police watchdog agency has announced her retirement after nearly a decade of leadership that at times has been critiqued as too soft on police, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Joyce Hicks was brought in to lead the Department of Police Accountability in 2007 when it was known as the Office of Citizen Complaints and faced a long list of issues. The department is tasked with investigating all citizen complaints about police misconduct and was renamed in November after voters authorized it to investigate police shooting incidents and conduct audits of the Police Department.

“After considerable reflection, I have decided to retire as Director of the Department of Police Accountability effective the close of business on June 30, 2017,” Hicks wrote in a staff email Monday obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

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“While this was a difficult decision, my immediate need to provide care for my 94-year-old father has become a priority and because of this I would only be intermittently available to serve as your Director. The demands on the Department require a director who can devote full time and attention to the Department.”

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Much of her time in leadership has been focused on improving the DPA’s organizational effectiveness. But critics have said she focused too much on paperwork and at getting cases cleared in time over taking on the more serious police misconduct issues.

“It’s clear that the DPA needs a strong leader that makes sure that police transgressions are met with appropriate discipline,” said Barbara Attard, a former OCC employee. When police are not being held accountable, the organization needs a leader that will say so, she added.

Last year, John Crew, a former ACLU lawyer and police observe told the SF Weekly, “[The] OCC, on paper, is a watchdog that has teeth. [But] you have to actually use that authority.”

Hicks has disputed the version of events posited by her critics, saying instead that her organization is neither as powerful as people believe or tasked with being an advocate.

Hicks who declined to comment Monday, but the email sent to staff listed a number of her accomplishments.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as Director of this extraordinary agency that has grown exponentially over the past few years in personnel, budget and jurisdiction. I am grateful to each one of you for your hard work and dedication. I believe this Department is uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in twenty-first century policing for the City and County of San Francisco,” she wrote.

Hicks, who faced a recent staff revolt because of her leadership style, was up for an annual review by the Police Commission, which oversees her department. It is unclear what the outcome of that review was. But some of her staff, which had been surveyed by their union, accused her of vindictive and retaliatory behavior.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which has not always been a fan of Hicks or her organization, wished her well.

Her retirement comes at a time of momentous change and reform for the Police Department, including increased oversight and a number of tactics meant to reduce fatal police encounters with civilians.

It also comes months after Chief William Scott was sworn in to lead the Police Department after former Chief Greg Suhr stepped down in May 2016 following a number of fatal police shootings and accounts of bias among officers.

Hicks said Deputy Director Erick Baltazar will lead the DPA effective Tuesday.

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