We are current and former government officials in San Francisco. We declare that Black Lives Matter, and that justice must be done for the victims of police brutality and racism.
To transform policing in San Francisco, however, means recognizing the main obstacle, which is the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
For this reason, we urge San Francisco elected officials and candidates to pledge to refuse support from the POA.
For too long, the POA has blocked or delayed vital reforms. Its leaders have elevated voices of discrimination and racism. When officers have acted reprehensibly, the POA has gone above and beyond to defend them. But when officers have spoken up to try to fix the institutional bias in the SFPD, the POA has made them feel professionally at risk and physically unsafe.
We are not alone in issuing this call:
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar and former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón have all called on the California State Bar to ban prosecutors from receiving political and financial support from law enforcement unions.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin of Berkeley, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Congressman Ro Khanna, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and Congressman Mark Takano have all signed Color of Change’s pledge to refuse police union campaign contributions. Elected officials across the country have also signed the pledge.
The POA has a long history of blocking reform:
In an October 15, 2006 San Francisco Chronicle article, former Police Commission President John Keker said that reforming SFPD was nearly impossible because the POA “to some extent runs the [police] department. So nothing happens.”
In a 2016 report by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and other leading attorneys, the authors concluded that the POA, for years, had used its “disproportionate leverage” to “produc[e] outcomes that depart from policy recommendations built through the Commission’s community engagement efforts.”
In 2018 after two years of litigation by the POA to stop the City from implementing a ban on “carotid restraints” (a type of chokehold) and shooting at suspects in moving vehicles, the California Court of Appeal ruled that: (1) the POA had no authority to obstruct the new policies, (2) the City had every right to end the fruitless negotiations the POA had demanded, and (3) to rule otherwise would “allow the [POA] to hold the policy in abeyance indefinitely.”
Unfortunately, the POA continues to delay and bury reforms:
On May 20th of this year, the Police Commission unanimously passed a sweeping new anti-bias and anti-profiling policy that was the result of four years of community collaboration. It was prompted by a federal report finding “numerous indicators of…bias against minority groups” within the SFPD. The POA demanded closed-door negotiations, however, and the new policy remains in limbo.
In January of 2018, the Police Commission unanimously passed reforms to prohibit officers under criminal or administrative investigation from reviewing body camera footage before giving their statements to investigators. But after the policy passed, the POA demanded to “meet and confer.” Over two years later, on July 6, 2020, the Bar Association of San Francisco sent a letter of alarm noting that the policy had seemingly vanished, and that any “language that was negotiated or changed during meet and confer has not even been made public.”
On July 1st of this year, the Police Commission unanimously passed a rule prohibiting officers from using their knees on people’s necks. The POA demanded to meet and confer, but the Commission refused. In response, the head of the POA stated that he was ready to “take the most aggressive legal position possible in terms of responding to the Police Commission’s disrespectful treatment of the Police Department and our members.”
On July 8th of this year, in a letter to City officials, Stuart Plunkett, the president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, stated that his organization has “observed the meet and confer process with SFPOA delay—by many months to years—urgent reforms that promote public safety and reinforce public trust in SFPD…The meet and confer process with SFPOA has recently and unacceptably delayed many other key reform.” He urged that “A new approach to negotiating police department matters with SFPOA is overdue.”
In addition to blocking reform, the POA has elevated or defended voices of racism:
When SFPD officers were discovered to have sent violently racist text messages, including “All n— must f— hang,” and “White Power,” the POA used union money to pay for their legal defense in disciplinary hearings even though the POA had no legal duty to do so.
In a May 10, 2016 article, the San Francisco Examiner reported that when a longtime SFPD officer was disciplined for telling fellow officers that he had come to the Bayview station to “kill n—,” POA political consultant and former union president Gary Delagnes called the officers who reported the offense “snitches,” and stated that the officer’s action “certainly wasn’t anything egregious enough to warrant any kind of discipline.”
In a November 20, 2016 interview with reporter Joe Eskenazi for San Francisco magazine, the then-president of the POA, Gary Delagnes, cited false statistics grossly inflating the percentage of violent crimes committed by Black people and claimed that “These are conversations people are very nervous about having.”
The POA not only obstructs reform and antagonizes the City it serves, but it also threatens and intimidates those who seek to fix what’s broken:
In 2016, when Justice Reynoso’s Blue Ribbon Panel attempted to interview police officers to gather information on how best to reform the department, the POA told its members not to participate. Few did, as a result.
According to the report: “Several officers informed” the panel “that officers with views…contrary to the POA’s views were deterred from participating in interviews by the risks to their professional future…and, in some cases, their personal safety.”
One brave officer, Sgt. Yulanda Williams, gave public testimony to the Panel about institutionalized bias in the department. She reported that the POA caused her to feel “unsafe on patrol,” as a result.
In a February 14, 1974 public letter, Harvey Milk called police violence a “festering disease” and he condemned those who would “become the ostrich and stick their heads into the dirt,” ignoring the need for profound change.
The POA must acknowledge and publicly apologize for its past words and actions. It must commit to fighting racism within its ranks and its leadership. Individuals fighting bias within the SFPD should be given leadership roles—not retaliated against. And the POA must cease blocking reform measures.
Today, we heed Harvey’s words. Until transformative change takes place within the POA, we urge elected officials and candidates to refuse their support.
Supervisor Shamann Walton
Supervisor Matt Haney
Supervisor Hillary Ronen
Supervisor Gordon Mar
Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer
Supervisor Dean Preston
Supervisor Norman Yee
Supervisor Ahsha Safai
Supervisor Aaron Peskin
Chesa Boudin. San Francisco District Attorney
Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender
David Campos, Chair, San Francisco Democratic Party
Tom Temprano, Trustee, City College of San Francisco
Former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano
Former Supervisor John Avalos