SFPD use of force policy still in limbo nearly four months since approval

The San Francisco Police Commission, which sets police department policy, unanimously passed a new use-of-force policy last summer emphasizing the sanctity of life in the wake of three fatal police shootings.

But that June 22 vote was just the first step in making that policy a reality on The City’s streets.

Three-and-a-half months later, the San Francisco Police Officers Association and The City have yet to come to terms on the policies, a fact pointed out in last week’s federal Department of Justice assessment of the San Francisco Police Department.

The report from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — requested by Mayor Ed Lee after the police killing of Mario Woods in the Bayview in December 2015 — found troubles with the SFPD’s transparency, accountability, bias, data collection, internal oversight
and hiring, as well as obstacles from the police union to implement reforms.

Still, 80 percent of the policy the union agreed with was put into effect soon after the Police Commission’s vote by a department bulletin, which only temporarily puts that part of the policy in motion, issued by Acting Chief Toney Chaplin.

But that leaves several of the hardest sticking points in limbo.

POA President Martin Halloran in a recent radio ad said the two sides are not far from an agreement, but remain at odds over a policy barring officers from firing at moving cars in most instances. It’s unclear where the negotiations stand on the use of the carotid hold, a tactic officers use to cut off the blood flow on a subject’s neck, causing unconsciousness. The practice has been outlawed in many other jurisdictions because of the dangers it poses, though the union has wanted to keep it.

“The POA has been bargaining in good faith with the Department of Human Resources,” said Halloran in the ad, noting that officers should be allowed to fire at moving cars.

Imagine, he said, if a car was used as a weapon during the Pride Parade and officers were not allowed to fire on it in order to stop it from harming people.

The matter is set for discussion Wednesday night in a closed session before the Police Commission, but it remains unclear when the impasse will end and the policy will fully be implemented.

“The Department of Human Resources is currently in the meet and confer process and the commission expects it to conclude shortly,” Commission President Suzy Loftus said in a text message to the San Francisco Examiner.

While the commission and union say they are close to an agreement, critics of the commission say the very fact that they are negotiating with the union shows their unwillingness to challenge the union’s demands.

Last month, the ACLU sent a letter to the commission expressing concerns over the stalled process, noting that the only matters the union has a right to interfere in are working conditions, which these policies do not apply to.

“It has been nine months since the death of Mario Woods, nine months since the mayor called for policy reforms that would emphasise de-escalation and a minimal use of force, and seven months since the working group began its meetings (with the POA as an active participant),” the letter reads.

“Even if there are negotiable issues concerning the effect of these policy decisions on SFPD officers, such decisions should not prevent the commission from acting now so that the public will finally get the benefit of the policy reforms and the officers will get much needed clarity,” the letter continues

Loftus has admitted in the past that while the commission has the power to override the union regarding reforms, such a move could result in legal action or an outside arbitrator if they can’t come to an agreement in negotiations.

Both outcomes could mean the policy could be delayed even longer.

In the meantime, the closed-door negotiations continue.

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