San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has issued a proposal to reform the Sheriff Department’s policy on use of force inside San Francisco’s jails. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Outgoing SF sheriff calls for reform of use of force policies

As the San Francisco Police Department moves to reform its use of force policies in the wake of the killing of Mario Woods, outgoing Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has put forward his own proposal to change how The City’s second largest law enforcement organization uses force in county jails.

“As we close 2015, tensions are playing themselves out on the streets of America, including San Francisco, without any tangible change until another incident grabs our attention and renews calls for reform,” said Mirkarimi in a statement.

“Similarly, there is more than enough reason to revise how use of force policies are applied inside this nation’s prisons and jails,” the sheriff said.

The proposed policies will introduce new de-escalation training, impact what kind of force is allowed and define who is responsible for reporting allegations of inmate abuse. They will also identify deputies who are disproportionately involved in such incidents and apply remedies. These proposals are an effort to streamline use of force rules department-wide.

The Sheriff’s Department has itself been no stranger to controversy.

Earlier this year, allegations that deputies were staging fights in the jail surfaced.
Mirkarimi says his proposal, which must still go through the meet and confer process with
the union, is not reactive and began more than a year ago.

“It began over a year ago and it’s not reactive to anything,” said Mirkarimi, whose last day in office is Jan. 8.

The detailed proposal, which emphasizes de-escalation tactics, either modifies existing policy or fills in gaps where no guidelines currently exist.

For instance, the policy forbids people involved in the lead up to planned use of force incidents, like cell extractions, from participating in them.

The old policy only applied to sworn staff, but the proposal includes all employees. It widens the scope of responsibility to all employees and puts the burden of reporting on anyone who witnesses an incident of excessive force.

The proposal also strengthens policies to protect inmates and others. The old policy was silent in that regard.

The new policy lists use of force from the least to most severe instances, whereas the old policy listed them alphabetically. It also explicitly forbids retaliation against inmates for filing or making complaints whereas the old policy was silent.

The proposal calls for department-wide training that teaches deescalation tactics, cooling off periods and consideration of the inmate’s mental and physical medical issues. The old policy did neither.

The policy was created in conjunction with staff from the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union, the Prison Law Office in Berkeley and experts in use of force, such as Jeffrey A. Swartz.

The policy’s implementation, and the union negotiations, will have to be dealt with by incoming Sheriff-elect Vicki Hennessy.

Eugene Cerbone, who heads the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association, did not return request for comment.

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