A San Francisco Superior Court judge Tuesday rejected a bid by a police union to block a new use of force policy that would prohibit officers from firing at moving vehicles.
Judge Richard Ulmer denied a motion by the San Francisco Police Officers Association for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented The City from implementing the new policy, which was approved by the Police Commission last Wednesday.
The union filed a lawsuit on Dec. 20 alleging The City had engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain further on the policy after talks reached an impasse in October. The lawsuit seeks to force the city into arbitration or reopen negotiations.
City attorneys, however, argued that the use of force policy was a managerial decision not subject to union negotiations, and Ulmer agreed Tuesday.
“Use of force policies in general are managerial decisions, I don’t think there is any other way you can read the case law,” Ulmer said in court. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think the city is likely to win.”
Union president Martin Halloran said the union will continue to fight the case in court. The union maintains the changes in the policy, which governs when officers are allowed to use force or draw a weapon, endanger the lives of officers.
“We believe that it is not over and we will do what we can within the legal system to protect our members’ rights, and to see that they are not forced into a situation that could cause them great bodily injury,” Halloran said outside of court.
The union objects to two key changes in the policy, prohibitions on the use of a control hold known as the carotid restraint and on shooting at moving vehicles.
Halloran said the commission had agreed behind closed doors to retaining the use of the carotid restraint, which he said had been used successfully for “decades” in San Francisco, until officers could be offered an additional less lethal option, namely Taser stun guns.
Tasers, however, are an intensely controversial option in San Francisco and their adoption has been blocked in the past due to strong community opposition.
The commission considered a motion to retain the use of the carotid restraint at its meeting last Wednesday but that motion was defeated 4-3.
Halloran also said the commission agreed behind closed doors that officers should be allowed to fire at moving vehicles in exceptional circumstances such as a recent terrorist attack in Nice, France, where a moving vehicle was used as a weapon.
However, while commission members voted to include language in the policy recognizing that every situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, they declined to include a list of exceptions to the ban on shooting at moving vehicles.
“The policy is designed for the usual types of events that police would find on the street,” said Katie Porter, the chief labor attorney for the city of San Francisco. “If there are exceptional circumstances, that will be taken into account in evaluating the use of force.”
Porter said that while The City had made various proposals in talks with the union, no agreement was reached.
The bans on shooting at moving vehicles and on carotid restraints are both backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the Police Commission.
The City entered into a collaborative review process with the Department of Justice early this year following the controversial police shooting in December 2015 of Mario Woods in the Bayview District.
That process resulted in a report, released in October, with 479 recommendations for reforming the Police Department.
Mayor Ed Lee has publicly committed The City to implementing all of the report’s recommendations.