The San Francisco Police Headquarters and Public Safety Building campus in Mission Bay. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Attorney’s potential conflict of interest reaches Police Commission

A deputy city attorney faced concerns on Wednesday about a potential conflict of interest between his role as an advisor to the Police Commission on the labor issues surrounding police reform and his past work as a lawyer for the police union.

Before joining the City Attorney’s Office in 2016, Jonathan Yank sued The City on behalf of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Now, Yank is charged with advising the other side as the Police Commission discusses what parts, if any, of reform-minded policies need to be negotiated with the union.

The union has been accused of using labor negotiations to stall police reform in the past, such as in the case of the new use-of-force policy that banned officers from shooting at cars and holding suspects in carotid holds. The rules were held up in negotiations for months. The union says it supports reform.

In a closed session meeting, Yank essentially assured the Police Commission there would be no conflict. Yank said he has disagreed with the SFPOA before and would oppose the union again if necessary, according to a statement from the Police Commission that Vice President Thomas Mazzucco read after the session.

“His ethical and legal duty is wholly and without reservation to the city and county of San Francisco,” the statement said Yank told the Commission. “He will not communicate in any manner with the POA members or representatives outside of his duties related to these matters.”

After reading the comments, Mazzucco said, “I feel very comfortable that there is absolutely no conflict with Mr. Yank serving in that role.”

But Commissioner John Hamasaki, who raised questions about the appearance of a conflict of interest in open session, did not go as far as Mazzucco.

“I think it is important to remember that Mr. Yank does not sit on the commission and we are free to accept or reject his advice as a commission,” Hamasaki told the San Francisco Examiner. “I’m confident that the Police Commission will now be able to get back to work enacting reform.”

A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office previously argued there is no conflict of interest.

The issue was first raised last week when Yank was set to advise the Police Commission on how to proceed with negotiations with the union around the Taser policy it passed in March, as well as other policies.

Commissioner Bob Hirsch said Wednesday the commission is not considering negotiating the details of the Taser policy. Earlier this month, voters rejected a ballot measure from the union that would have overridden the Taser policy with less-restrictive rules for officers to use stun guns.

“Nobody on the commission is suggesting that we are going to negotiate the substance of what this commission already did months and months ago with the POA,” Hirsch said. “What we hope to find out is are there any issues that affect the POA that they are legally entitled to negotiate.”

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