New rules bar domestic violence offenders from SF police ranks

The Police Department has made it clear, under new policies, that anyone convicted of domestic violence may not apply to be an officer and that officers responding to domestic violence calls shall not take into account immigration status.

The rules, known as general orders, were recently passed by the Police Commission and dictate how officers and the department should act in cases of domestic violence.

Anyone convicted of domestic violence is already barred from owning a weapon and therefore cannot be a police officer, Capt. Joseph McFadden said, but the new rules make it clear to all that the department does not want such people in its ranks.

“It's pretty unique,” McFadden described of the policy.

The rule officially barring domestic violence offenders from the force was part of a larger policy on the steps the department must take when investigating domestic violence cases involving officers.

The policies also spelled out that immigration status will not be a factor when officers are called to domestic violence incidents. Efforts will also be made to ensure that interpreters are available at such calls.

While some domestic violence groups took issue with several details in the new rules, they were mostly supportive of the department's efforts and the policies the commission endorsed at the meeting.

Much of the debate was about how and when police should call Child Welfare officers. Domestic violence groups argued the rules concerning child welfare needed to be further refined or risked discouraging victims from calling police for fear of having their children taken away.

“Could it be more perfect? Probably,” said Casa De Las Madres women's shelter head Kathy Black, who supported the new rules.

Commission President Suzy Loftus said the yearslong process on the policies should come to an end.

“This hasn't been rushed,” she said, responding to requests to further refine the rules before passing them.

Commissioner Victor Hwang said he took into account the concerns of domestic violence groups, but pointed out that the new rules restrict what police can do rather than expand their actions when it comes to domestic violence and youth.

Before the general order was put into place, there were no protocols for police when they found children at the scene of domestic violence calls, he said. Police are already required to notify Child Protective Services if they are handling a case where they think children are being abused or in danger, Huang said. But there was some leeway on identifying potential abuse, a situation that should be fixed by the new orders, he added.

Domestic violence and policies on how to deal with it within law enforcement and elsewhere have been big issues in San Francisco.

Before he became police chief in 2011, Greg Suhr was demoted in 2009 for not reporting a domestic violence incident involving a female friend quickly enough. The woman said Suhr saved her by encouraging her to report the incident, but he was reprimanded for not reporting the incident himself and in the timeline set by policy.

Commissioner Julius Turman also has personal experience in the area. While he was exonerated, he said at the hearing, he was involved in a domestic violence incident with a former boyfriend.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was charged in connection with an argument on New Year's Eve in 2011 in which he grabbed and bruised his wife's arm. Three months later, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor false imprisonment and was sentenced to three months' probation.

The commission plans to review the impacts of the general order on children in six months and may make changes at that time if the general order's intentions had not been met.