Tensions run high between S.F. union, Police Commission

Tensions between the police union and the department’s civilian oversight body have heightened after two commissioners’ comments that police can, and sometimes do, kill people.

In an Oct. 25 discussion over whether to force officers to waive their right of confidentiality if they want to settle disciplinary cases without a full trial, a union lawyer argued that police officers should have the same rights to confidentiality as other civil servants.

“We draw a distinction between a public employee who carries a gun and can kill people,” Commissioner Theresa Sparks said.

Commissioner Petra DeJesus said, “Police officers have a tremendous impact on the community in terms of carrying guns, the authority that they bring and the fact that they, on occasion, kill people.”

At the next meeting on Nov. 1, union officials criticized the use of the words “kill people.”

“There is a keen distinction between taking one’s life and killing someone,” union Vice President Kevin Martin said. Taking a life, he said, is an unfortunate possibility in a police officer’s job. Killing someone, he said, implies malice.

“Unless an apology is forthcoming tonight, you’re not only going to alienate the people you already have, you’re going to alienate anyone who might even be thinking of joining,” union official Johnson said.

The apology did not come.

The dispute comes as a long-anticipated and hotly debated system for tracking officers’ behavior to identify potential disciplinary problems early on is being put into place. The union holds the power to halt the implementation of the system — set for February — by taking it to arbitration.

Cooperation between the two groups is seen as imperative — while the commission is tasked with creating department policy, the union can obstruct the implementation of policies it does not like. Important pending decisions could be held up indefinitely.

“I do draw a distinction between an individual who may be a gardener in Golden Gate Park and an individual who may be sanctioned by The City and the state to fire a weapon and use deadly force,” Sparks said Thursday. “I don’t see that there is anything to apologize about because I firmly believe that’s a true statement. Nor do I intend to apologize.”

DeJesus said the union pounced on an unfortunate choice of words — the official term is “deadly force,” instead of “kill people.”

“They can pick and choose words out of context that inflame the rank and file or they can tell them the truth and tell them about the resolution that’s pending,” she said.

amartin@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF moves into purple tier, triggering curfew and business shutdowns

San Francisco moved into the state’s purple COVID-19 tier Saturday, requiring The… Continue reading

San Francisco lacks housing data that would let it track rental vacancies and prices. New legislation is seeking to change that.<ins> (Photo by Joel Angel Jurez/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Landlords blast proposal to require annual report on rentals as invasion of privacy

Housing inventory could give city better data on housing vacancies, affordability

University of San Francisco head coach Todd Golden coaches his team on defense during a 2019 gameat War Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of the University of San Francisco. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)
Stunner in Bubbleville: USF upsets fourth-ranked Virginia

Less than 48 hours removed from a loss to a feeble UMass… Continue reading

Health care workers would be the first group in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)
Hope on the way: Here’s what to know about California’s COVID-19 vaccine plan

The first batch of doses could hit the state as soon as early December

The Big Game was played Friday at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. (Shutterstock)
Stanford blocks extra point to stun Cal, win 123rd Big Game 24-23

The 123rd edition of the Big Game featured a number of firsts.… Continue reading

Most Read