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Split committee vote on next police commissioner leaves position in limbo

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Bill Hing (Courtesy photo)
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A Board of Supervisors committee on Monday recommended a longtime civil rights and immigration lawyer to serve as the newest San Francisco police commissioner, leaving the ultimate choice in limbo.

A split Rules Committee voted 2-1 Monday to recommend University of San Francisco law professor Bill Hing to fill the empty seat on the Police Commission, but it remains unclear if there are enough votes on the full board to cement his role on the commission.

“Its unclear if he can get the votes he needs,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, one of the two Rules Committee members who backed Hing. “I support Bill Hing because I feel like he will take a strong position on systemic reform for racial justice and immigrant rights,” added Mar, who has known Hing for years and believes he will also confront the Police Officers Association.

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The committee’s dissenting vote was Supervisor Malia Cohen, who said she was leaning toward another of the five candidates for police commissioner: John Hamasaki.

Supervisor John Avalos, who is not a member of the Rules Committee, also said he backs Hamasaki.

“I like his passion and I like his criminal justice knowledge and experience fighting as a public defender,” said Avalos. “I appreciate how he has worked from the community side, what his role as a commissioner would entail.”

The hearing was an unscheduled meeting after Hing entered his name into the running at the last moment last week.

The commission seat has traditionally been filled by people of Chinese descent.

Whoever fills the board-appointed seat — the mayor has appointment power over four of the seven commissioners — will play an important part in steering the San Francisco Police Department through incomplete reforms around police accountability and use of force.

Former commissioner Victor Hwang vacated his seat last month after winning election to a Superior Court judgeship, which leaves the commission with an empty seat during an important period of reforms. The reforms have been opposed in some cases by the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

The Police Commission is currently embroiled in an increasingly bitter fight with the POA over broken down negotiations over the implementation of a new use-of-force policy. The main issue has been whether police can shoot at moving cars, which the POA supports but the new policy bans in most cases.

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