The main entrance of the San Francisco Police Officers Association office in San Francisco August 31, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Ad backing acting SFPD chief attacked as interfering with search process

A radio advertisement paid for by the San Francisco Police Officers Association endorsing Acting Chief Toney Chaplin for the permanent job and opposing the idea of an outside hire is being attacked by police watchdogs as a move to interfere with the hiring process.

The ad, which will air on KCBS radio, was distributed on the union’s Facebook page Sunday and is part of their effort to tell the community about Chaplin so that “The City makes the right choice.”

The Police Commission, which hired a $49,000 search firm, has received 60 candidates for the job, including 11 from inside the department. The commission will forward three finalists to Mayor Ed Lee, who ultimately picks the next chief.

The ad is just the latest in a series of controversies that have plagued the hiring process and worried some into believing the process is a farce.

In the ad, POA President Martin Halloran is featured saying that “Chief Chaplin is a cop’s cop who has worked his way up in the SFPD,” and that “Chief Toney Chaplin is the right person at the right time.”

Halloran goes on to say that he was disappointed with what he called the politically-motivated exit of former Chief Greg Suhr in May, but was happy that Chaplin was named acting chief in Suhr’s place.

The minute-long ad also opposes the idea of the department hiring an outsider as it did in 1975 and most recently in 2009 when George Gascon, who is now The City’s district attorney, was chosen by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The union’s spot backing Chaplin, who has applied for the job as permanent chief, is not the first time their support for him has been made public. In August, the union posted on its Facebook page a link to news story about Chaplin, which erroneously said the mayor had already chosen Chaplin to be chief, and said the union backed Chaplin for the position.

“They are obviously petrified by the possibility that a highly qualified, reform minded, experienced candidate from outside the SFPD…could soon be running the SFPD,” wrote former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer and police watchdog John Crew in a letter on the issue. “Our SFPD, not their SFPD.”

Sgt. Yulanda Williams, who heads the black officers association the Officers for Justice, did not comment directly on the ad, but voiced concern for any interference in the hiring process.

“It is distracting from the credibility of the process,” said Williams of any endorsements for chief. Her organization, she added, supports the process and hopes the next person who becomes chief is the most qualified candidate.

But Barbara Attard, who worked for The City’s Office of Citizen Complaints for 15 years and most recently worked for San Jose as that city’s independent police auditor, said the ad is one more example of the union’s true colors.

“They want someone they can control. They want someone who is in their pocket,” she said.

Attard added the process must be fully respected especially at a time that is critical for the future of The City’s policing.

“We need a strong chief who will carry out reforms and stand up to the Police Association,” said Attard.

Crew, the former ACLU lawyer, dubbed the POA the “bad cop lobby” that wants a chief they can control because it will project the “Suhr-era”– the status quo — into the future.

“They want the public to believe that literally no one — regardless of their background, credentials, national stature, or experience — could lead the SFPD better than their guy, Toney Chaplin,” wrote Crew. “Merely fitting a police union’s narrow definition of being a ‘cop’s cop’ is not a qualification at all for be a big city chief. If anything, it’s a danger sign.”

The next Police Commission meeting Wednesday is expected to have an update on the process. The deadline to apply was Aug. 31.

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