Pitch to clear disciplinary mess

San Francisco’s police chief wants to have the power to fire problem officers instead of the lengthy disciplinary process in place now, which can take years.

The current method of disciplining police officers goes through the Police Commission, a citizen oversight panel, and has been criticized because of a backlog that has left cases lingering for years.

Even commission members agree the process needs mending, but police Chief George Gascón wants to go further. He wants to be able to fire problem officers instead of having to go through the Police Commission first. That change, however, would require a charter amendment, and support for that option appears to be lukewarm.

The commission and its seven appointed members set policy and operating rules, along with handle most officer-discipline cases. The last time the commission underwent significant change was in 2003, when Proposition H altered the body’s makeup to include three members appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

Commissioners have discussed increasing the chief’s authority to hand out suspensions of more than 10 days, which is the strictest punishment that can doled out without oversight. It’s a solution recommended by the Police Effectiveness Review, a yearlong study of the department’s policies and practices that was released this year.

Gascón said longer suspensions, however, will not solve the problem.

“I’m not advocating that I should be this godlike figure,” Gascón told The Examiner. “I believe that there should be oversight, but the oversight should come if I overstep my authority or, frankly, my successors, in the future.”

Disciplinary hearings that involve stiff penalties such as termination can take longer than five years. One officer recently had all charges against him, which included discrediting the department for being caught shoplifting twice, dismissed after he retired.
Police Commission President Joe Marshall said changing the charter, which would require a voter-approved amendment, would take a long time.

“Personally, I’d like to see the chief have more power,” Marshall said. “But I think we should meet somewhere in the middle.”

Gascón said he hopes to see a charter amendment on the ballot next year. An initiative can only be put on the ballot by the mayor, the Board of Supervisors or a petition by the people. It would also take support from The City’s powerful police union, which did not return calls for comment.

“One of the things about discipline — even when you’re dealing with crime — it has to be swift, it has to be certain,” Gascón said.

 

 

San Francisco police Chief George Gascón says he’ll introduce a number of changes to the Police Department, including:

  • Decentralizing investigations unit and assigning investigators to The City’s district police stations
  • Seeking out more community involvement in policing
  • Beefing up crime-trend analyses with a new computer program that helps identify crime trends
  • Creating a 24/7 real-time police operations center

 

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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