Sheriff Paul Miyamoto supports the notion of creating an oversight commission for the Sheriff’s Department but not the creation of a new investigative agency to handle allegations of misconduct. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City puts $3M yearly price tag on plan to probe deputy misconduct

A proposed ballot measure to ensure that deputies are held accountable for misconduct through the creation of a new investigative agency and oversight panel is projected to cost San Francisco roughly $3 million a year during an economic downturn, according to a new report.

The price tag is largely due to the estimated $2.8 million annual cost of staffing the proposed Office of Inspector General with 14 employees to investigate non-criminal allegations of deputy misconduct and recommend discipline to the sheriff, the Budget and Legislative Analyst found.

Assembling a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Panel — a seven-member body with subpoena power that would hold public hearings and report regularly to the Board of Supervisors — would also run The City an estimated $240,000 a year. A Controller’s Office analysis returned similar numbers.

But Supervisor Shamann Walton, who seeks to place the measure on the November ballot, argues that the costs are necessary at a time when cities around the nation are re-examining budget priorities for law enforcement over the killing of George Floyd.

“The moment is now to take a closer look at how we fund law enforcement and how we hold law enforcement accountable for all the members of our community,” Walton said. “This is the type of investment we need to make.”

Walton was speaking at a committee hearing Monday, where Sheriff Paul Miyamoto raised concerns about the projected budget impacts.

While the sheriff supports the oversight panel, Miyamoto is opposed to creating an office to investigate non-criminal complaints against deputies when the Department of Police Accountability currently does so under a formal agreement with the Sheriff’s Department.

“We are duplicating a process that is already being addressed… by an independent investigative body,” Miyamoto said.

Miyamoto, however, seemed to support the idea of an Office of Inspector General without the “administrative burden” of investigation, he said. The office would instead review the investigative work of the DPA.

In response, Walton said he understands that San Francisco is facing “budgetary restraints.” The City currently has a $1.7 billion budget deficit over the next two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“But I also want to be clear,” Walton said. “People are dying unjustly at the hands of law enforcement across this country. We have made our own mistakes here in San Francisco that have been highlighted in the media.”

In 2015, a group of sheriff’s deputies were accused of staging “gladiator-style” fights between inmates at County Jail. More recently, The City settled two lawsuits over alleged beatings in the jails totalling $180,000, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

“We are at a pivotal time when we are currently redirecting resources to achieve justice,” Walton said. “Saving lives does not come at a cost, and it should not come at a cost. ‘What is a life worth’ is a question that I want us to ask ourselves as we look at the cost-benefit analysis of this policy.”

Barbara Attard, a police accountability consultant who worked with Walton on the proposal, expressed concerns that the Sheriff’s Department had signed a memorandum of understanding with the DPA.

“This MOU stands to dilute oversight of the Police Department,” Attard said. The DPA “really needs to focus on the Police Department.”

Walton has the support of Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston as well as District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Public Defender Manohar Raju.

Raju acknowledged that the sheriff has the sole authority to discipline deputies under state law. The proposal would only require the OIG to recommend punishment under the City Charter — not impose it.

But he said the proposal would enhance transparency and create a mechanism for the public to file complaints against deputies.

“The public has a right to know and should have a window into how the Sheriff’s Department operates,” Raju said.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to place the proposed charter amendment on the ballot at a later date.

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