SF police union denies obstructing panel on police bias, history shows otherwise

While San Francisco’s police union on Wednesday disputed District Attorney George Gascon’s claim that it has stonewalled an inquiry into biased policing, the union has not made the process easy, according to the head of the inquiry.

The Police Officers Association has prevented the panel leading the inquiry from gathering information it requested from the San Francisco Police Department, said Anand Subramanian, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Fairness and Accountability in Law Enforcement. The panel first requested to speak with officers in October.

The police union has criticized the panel from the time it was announced in April 2015 — when POA consultant Gary Delagnes said the union needed to “go after” Gascon for failing to uncover misconduct during his tenure as police chief — until a few months ago.

In December, the POA questioned the panel’s authority to subpoena testimony from officers.

In recent months, rather than allow the panel to interview some 20 particular officers the panel considers experts, the POA has instead arranged interviews with the officers it sees qualified to speak.

The first of those interviews took place Wednesday, the same day the POA sent a letter to Gascon arguing it has not stood in the way of his inquiry.

The police union selecting officers for interviews is problematic for the Blue Ribbon Panel for more than one reason, according to Subramanian. It prevents the panel from speaking with whomever it wants and could compromise the objectivity of the interviewees, he said.

That’s because in a December bulletin to officers, the POA rejected the panel’s premise that there could be institutionalized racial bias in the SFPD.

“We have a fear that POA provided testimony may be tainted,” said Subramanian. “Any testimony that they provide, or any officers that they provide, presumably carry that same perspective that the POA carries.”

Sgt. Yulanda Williams, the one active­-duty police officer who has publicly spoken to the panel, received a letter from the POA soon after she spoke about racism in the department because her comments did not match the police union’s beliefs.

Subramanian said that sort of pressure from the police union could have dissuaded officers from speaking with panel representatives. In the same POA bulletin from December, in which the union rejected the notion of police bias, the POA asked officers to seek union representation if contacted by the panel.

In the letter to Gascon on Wednesday, POA President Martin Halloran denied the DA’s claim that the union has “engaged in a dizzying array of stonewalling tactics.”

Halloran called the claim “a complete fabrication.”

However, Halloran’s letter included a footnote that appears to muddy the events that have occurred since the creation of the panel last year.

“While we had mildly contentious early exchanges with panel representatives because their initial correspondence to POA members was ambiguous and potentially misleading, those issues have all been resolved collaboratively,” he wrote.

The letter gave examples of cooperation between the panel and the police union, including a number of upcoming meetings. But except for a patrol ride­-along that panel attorneys took with police, the list lacked officer interviews facilitated by the POA.

This story has been altered to reflect the following change. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Fairness and Accountability in Law Enforcement first requested to speak with specific police officers in October 2015.

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