Relations strained between police, watchdogs

Failure to hash out differences comes amid calls for better cooperation

Communications appear to have broken down between the civilian agency that investigates charges of police misconduct and the police officers’ union, just days after a panel of experts recommended the mayor demand they establish a working relationship.

The panel, which included former Mayor Frank Jordan and former police Chief Tony Ribera, heard testimony during a two-day conference held at the University of San Francisco in early June from police Chief Heather Fong as well as representatives from the Office of Citizen Complaints, the Police Officers Association and the Police Commission.

On Tuesday, the panel issued a report full of recommendations for improvements to the department. The panel recommended, among other things, that, “the mayor of San Francisco should demand that the commission, the department, the OCC and the POA immediately establish mutually respectful working relationships.”

At the Police Commission meeting Wednesday, those relationships appeared strained. The union and OCC were to meet with each other to address progress they've made in resolving a charge by the union that the OCC violates officers' rights in its investigations.

The union has long complained that the notification the OCC gives its officers is too vague. Union representative Steve Johnson said Friday that the OCC violates officers' due process by investigating officers for such infractions as inaccurate or incomplete incident reports or taking unwarranted action, but not telling the officers in what way the reports were inaccurate or what action was unwarranted.

“Interview by ambush is not what due process is all about,” Johnson said.

But OCC director Kevin Allen said the officers are made aware of the complaints against them within two to three weeks of the complaint. He said officers are provided with a copy of the original complaint written by the complainant. “Sometimes those are four lines and sometimes they're four pages,” he said.

OCC investigators, he said, do not give officers specifics beyond the nature of the charge when they conduct their initial interviews. If the case is found to have merit, he said, officers and their union representatives have a right of discovery to results of the investigations before a disciplinary hearing.

By the meeting Wednesday, the two groups had not met to discuss the issue. Allen said at the meeting that he had tried to contact Johnson but that Johnson had been too busy to meet in time.

“I, for one, don't want to hear any more complaints about officers receiving notice of complaints because if there's a problem the opportunity has been there to fix it,” Police Commission President Louise Renne said at the meeting.

“This is not about notice, that Louise [Renne] keeps referring to, this is about the internal investigative policy of the OCC,” Johnson said Friday.

But Allen stood by his office's policies. “I've got to act under the charter, and the charter says we investigate thoroughly and make recommendations to the chief,” he said.

Both Allen and Johnson said they intend to meet soon, but no date has been set.

amartin@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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