Supervisor Malia Cohen. Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo

Deteriorating relationship between police union and supervisor worsens

Supervisor Malia Cohen and her erstwhile ally, the San Francisco Police Officers Association, have gone from being on the outs to crashing on the rocks, so to speak.

The latest issue the union has with Cohen came from her comments during a recent Board of Supervisors debate over a failed attempt to alter The City’s sanctuary laws.

At the time she said increasing the number of police, which she supported, would not necessarily improve people’s trust in the department.

That statement and another about the death of Kate Steinle, which questioned why one death should alter city law, were apparently all it took to anger the union.

The statements were just more of her “repeated hostile comments toward law enforcement,” according to the letter from the union president Martin Halloran written Oct. 27. “Your comments establish a clear pattern of disdain towards the men and woman of the San Francisco police department.”  

Cohen, in a text Monday, told the Examiner.  “Last week I invited the president of the POA to meet and discuss his beef with me like an adult. As of today I have yet to hear back.”

The story of the souring relationship goes back at least to last December at the height of recent protests over police brutality.

First came the union’s bullying tactics last December when the police union sent emails telling Cohen not to back a resolution backing Black Lives Matter protesters.

At the time the union’s political consultant, Gary Delagnes, emailed her and other supervisors, threatening them if they supported John Avalos resolution. The POA argued the resolution disparaged police, saying it conflated bad behavior by police in other places with the actions of local police.

Cohen did not vote for the resolution, which failed. But she did express dismay at the tone of the union’s messaging.

Then, in July, Cohen told a meeting of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee that she didn’t care what the POA thought on whether the party backed a police reform stance.

But that all seemed like water under the bridge, at least as far as the union was concerned, until last week when she again fell out of favor for her comments at the Board of Supervisors.

At that hearing Cohen’s comment on the Steinle killing, which she noted shouldn’t allow “dictate 25 years of policy in our city” was also coupled with another statement about police numbers.

“If people in our community don’t trust law enforcement, no level of staffing will change that,” she said, probably commenting on the efforts to boost officer numbers.

While Halloran’s letter is one more example of the union flexing it political power in The City, some in the force have told union leaders their outsized political role has gone too far.

Just last week The City’s Ethics Commission dinged the union’s former leader for illegally lobbying Cohen and others last year.

“It is striking that a number of our members, all hard working police officers, disdain the political world to the point that they actually believe we should remove ourselves from the body politic altogether,” wrote Paul Chignell and Gary Delagnes in the POA Journal’s latest issue.

But any question of the union’s politicking was cast aside in a defense that listed achievements that have helped the members, from wages to other protections.

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