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Terms for DA’s investigation of police shootings remain unresolved

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District Attorney George Gascon, pictured, and Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin have yet to reach an agreement on how police shootings will be investigated. (Mike Koozmin/2009 S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s District Attorney and Police Chief remain at odds over the terms by which the top prosecutor will investigate police shootings.

In September, District Attorney George Gascon received $1.5 million in city funding to create an Independent Investigation Bureau to review old conviction cases and investigate police shootings and in-custody deaths. The bureau will consist of 14 staff members — six attorneys and eight investigators.

While the hiring process has begun for the unit, the terms of a memorandum of understanding between the District Attorney’s Office and the San Francisco Police Department over investigations remains up for debate.

The unit was discussed Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee, where representatives for Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin and Gascon said the two met most recently Wednesday to discuss the agreement and plan to meet again next week.

“The critical and outstanding issue for us remains the MOU,” said Cristine Soto DeBerry, Gascon’s chief of staff. “The DA indicated [Wednesday] to the chief that he is fine with vast majorities of what the Police Department has proposed.”

However, DeBerry added how the criminal investigations will occur remains unresolved.

“Obviously, the administrative portions of any work the Police Department would do around a firearms review board, around a return to duty, any administrative or personnel sanctions they wanted to implement is certainly not our purview, and we have no interest in crossing over that line, but the criminal investigation remains critically important,” she said.

There are an average of six police shootings and two in-custody deaths annually. To date, San Francisco has never prosecuted an officer for a police shooting or in-custody death, according to a recent budget analyst Harvey Rose’s report.

San Francisco police Cmdr. Greg McEachern said talks remain ongoing “so that we can move forward and hopefully sign an MOU between the two agencies.”

McEachern also noted that the department is committed to reforms recommended in recent reports like the Blue Ribbon Panel review and Civil Grand Jury report.

“Last week, the department received the [Department of Justice] collaborative review initiative that had more than 270 recommendations,” he said. “As you know, the mayor and the chief agreed with the report and committed to implementing all the recommendations that are within that. There are time frames that are set in place but we have a lot of work to do especially in the next 18 months.”

Eric Vanderpool, who was on the grand jury panel that released a report in July calling for more timely and greater transparency in the investigations of officer involved shootings, said Thursday that the recommendations across the multiple reports are not mutually exclusive.

“We can make sure that we bring our investigations in The City of officer-involved shootings into the open and make them as timely and transparent as possible,” he said.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed said the board will hold quarterly public hearings on how the recommendations of the reports are implemented to help “re-establish the trust that has been broken between the communities and the San Francisco Police Department.”

There is an expected Nov. 15 board hearing at 5 p.m. with the Police Commission to discuss the reports.

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