District Attorney George Gascon’s office will receive funding for a new unit to investigate police shootings, but not as much as was originally requested. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

DA’s new unit to investigate police shootings granted funding

District Attorney George Gascon’s special unit to investigate police shootings received city funding to launch Wednesday after the proposal was reduced by nearly $360,000.

Earlier this year, $1.8 million was placed on hold pending more details from Gascon about his specialized Independent Investigation Bureau. The new unit would investigate police shootings and in-custody deaths as well as review old conviction cases.

There is an average of six police shootings and two in-custody deaths annually since 1997.

But during the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee’s vote to release the funding Wednesday, details related to the proposal were brought into question, such as why 14 staffers — six attorneys and eight investigators — would cost The City some $244,000 per month.

Budget analyst Harvey Rose said it wasn’t clear whether 14 positions are needed since the District Attorney’s Office doesn’t track hours worked per cases.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who chairs the committee, said tracking of hours must begin if the unit expects funding in the future.

Rose also argued that the District Attorney’s Office shouldn’t be paying the new hires at the top salary, which is the plan, and recommended a 9 percent reduction in salaries.

“We want to be sure the staff that we assign to this work is absolutely the best we can find,” said Cristine Soto DeBerry, Gascon’s chief of staff.

The committee, on which Farrell along with Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee serve, voted unanimously to approve $1.5 million for the unit, a near $360,000 reduction from what was requested. The vote came after a spirited debate as DeBerry argued against any reduction in funding. She said any salary savings should instead be used for other expenses such as vehicles and expert witnesses.

But Farrell said he was “frustrated” by the last-minute request of spending on other items only after Rose identified savings.

The new unit would be assigned to handle the “backlog of 4,000 cases that we are going through as a result of the officers involved in the racist text messaging scandal, both the first one we had in 2015 and the second one later in 2015,” DeBerry said.

The District Attorney’s Office currently has a backlog of 20 shooting incidents involving San Francisco police officers. On average, it takes 445 days to close a case, according to Rose’s report.

DeBerry said Gascon’s new investigative unit will “help us get a better handle” on the investigations of police conduct. The San Francisco Police Department currently is the lead investigative agency into potential criminal conduct of their own officers “which proposes for them obviously a challenging conflict of interest,” DeBerry said.

She added that they are negotiating a contract with the Police Department to finalize the arrangement of how investigations would occur.

The District Attorney Office’s new unit would respond to the scene of any police shooting.

“To date, San Francisco has never prosecuted a police officer for an officer-involved shooting or in-custody death,” according to Rose’s report.

DeBerry said the hiring will begin right away with the funding release and it would take three months to hire investigators and two to four weeks to hire attorneys.

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