San Francisco’s Police Commission is widely considered to be among the most important — and powerful — oversight bodies in The City, with the ability to shape police policy and impose discipline against officers.
While the police watchdog has not met in well over a month because of the coronavirus crisis, two seats are opening up on the seven-member board. Commission President Bob Hirsch and Tippy Mazzucco, a longtime member of the body, are out with terms ending April 30.
Now, Mayor London Breed has tossed two hats into the ring to replace them. Breed has nominated Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung, who recently made a strong showing as a candidate for district attorney, and attorney Geoffrey Gordon-Creed to serve on the commission.
The question is whether the progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors will vote to confirm them as commissioners. In the recent past, the process has not always been a done deal.
When then-acting Mayor Mark Farrell recommended two former police commissioners for reappointment in 2018, the board rejected the nominees over concerns about them being too close to the police union — the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
And while Breed successfully nominated police commissioners Damali Taylor and Dion-Jay Brookter in late 2018, at least one progressive supervisor has raised concerns about her picks this time around.
“The whole point of the Police Commission is to have independent citizen oversight that is objective and apart from the Police Department and the POA,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “It really concerns me that, with both of these nominations, I’m not sure that that separation exists.”
Tung is an assistant district attorney who works in consumer protections. She was one of four candidates in the running for San Francisco district attorney last November, and came in third place. More recently, she was elected to a seat on the local Democratic County Central Committee.
As a member of the Police Commission, Tung said she would seek to be a voice for the Chinese community in San Francisco, which does not currently have a representative on the commission.
Even before COVID-19 caused concern about rising anti-Chinese sentiments, San Francisco had seen a number of high-profile crimes against Chinese seniors including violent robberies in neighborhoods like Chinatown and Visitacion Valley, Tung noted.
She pointed to one incident in particular — the robbery of a Chinese bakery store owner in the Excelsior who police left waiting for four hours — and said she would seek to ensure police are responsive to immigrant communities as a member of the commission.
“These issues are on my mind,” said Tung, who is Chinese American. “It’s important to continue to have somebody with that perspective on the Police Commission and not just allow a significant community in San Francisco to not have a voice.”
The lack of representation for a community that has traditionally had a seat on the Police Commission has previously been an issue for Breed. The commission currently has an Asian American member, John Hamasaki, but he is not Chinese American.
Ronen questioned why Breed had to choose Tung to be the Chinese American representative on the commission when the community is so large in San Francisco.
“There are literally hundreds of thousands of people to choose from,” Ronen said. “Why she had to choose a controversial candidate for the DA that disagrees with the majority of the Board of Supervisors on many of the criminal justice reform measures is beyond me.”
Ronen criticized Tung for recieving funding from the SFPOA in the early stages of her race for district attorney, and also for supporting arming officers with the controversial stun devices commonly called Tasers.
“I’m looking forward to talking to her and learning more, but as I go into this I am extremely skeptical,” said Ronen, who is chair of the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, which will get to vote on the nominations before they advance to the full board.
Tung said she supports police using Tasers as an alternative to firearms if deployed alongside de-escalation techniques.
“I support the use of Tasers only if there is a clear and thoughtful policy on when they can be used and thorough training for officers,” Tung said.
While she did not have the endorsement of any supervisor during the district attorney race, Tung is hoping they will give her a shot at the Police Commission.
“It’s either do they think that I am qualified and I would represent an unrepresented population on the Police Commission, or are they going to take a more political path and not support me,” Tung said.
Unlike Tung, Gordon-Creed does not appear to be a political insider.
While he worked as a deputy city attorney for a couple years in the early nineties, representing various city agencies including the San Francisco Police Department, he has been in private practice since 1994.
As a founding partner of the lawfirm Gordon-Creed, Kelley, Holl & Sugerman, he handles a spectrum of civil litigation. He has also served on several boards, including as acting chair and vice chair of the Ethics Commission is the late 90s.
If confirmed, Gordon-Creed said he would focus on ensuring disciplinary matters are heard in a timely manner.
“The issue is that people need to have confidence in the disciplinary system, both the community and the police officers involved,” he said. “I think its important that the Police Commission pay attention to those issues.”
Delays in filing disciplinary charges have prevented police from punishing some of the officers involved in the racist and homophobic text messaging scandal that shook The City in 2015, for example.
Ronen questioned how someone who previously represented the Police Department could serve on the police oversight body.
“I know very, very little about him but what I have heard is that he defended police officers,” Ronen said. “If that’s his only qualification that would cause me great concern.”
Both Tung and Gordon-Creed also stressed the need for the SFPD to push forward with reforms more quickly. A March report from the state Department of Justice scolded the SFPD for taking too long to implement reforms, which just 18 percent completed since late 2016.
“I have great confidence in Chief [Bill] Scott and I think he is pushing it forward as fast as he can and I’d like to help with that,” Gordon-Creed said.
When Breed announced the nominations, she said “I am confident that Nancy and Geoffrey will help us build on the progress we have made to continue reforming our Police Department while ensuring that our all of our communities are safe and well-represented.”
Under the City Charter, the Board of Supervisors has 60 days to vote on a nomination from the date it is put forward. Otherwise, the nominee is approved.