Opinion: The history of the Police Officers Association is increasingly one of inclusion

The first Black lesbian president of the POA argues for current problem solving, not past bashing

By Tracy McCray

Special to The Examiner

As the new acting president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, I made a pledge to call it like I see it.

The recent opinion piece in The Examiner regarding the history of the San Francisco Police Department and our union, and somehow tying it to the upcoming recall against the district attorney, is misleading and deserves a response.

The POA has neither taken an official position on the recall nor made any financial contribution to the campaign. I have been consistent in claiming that it is for the voters to decide and that we would not be weighing in politically.

If Examiner columnist Lincoln Mitchell chooses to write a historical column about the struggles not only San Francisco but all other major cities and police departments have faced over the last half century around the issues of racial and gender equity, then so be it. Yet tying it to a divisive campaign in which we have not taken a position is wrong.

The people will decide on June 7, and we will continue working on addressing issues of staffing and focusing on retention and recruitment to do everything within our power to do our jobs effectively and keep the public safe.

We are facing serious issues in San Francisco that demand collaboration and forward thinking. It is certainly important to remember our collective histories, to learn from where we came, to have productive and civil dialogue — and to not just hear, but to actually listen to each other. Yet making false claims around fighting reforms and consent decrees is simply not factual.

There are several inaccuracies in the piece. One of our senior officers arrested and disarmed Dan White, and testified for the prosecution at his trial. In the late 1970s and ‘80s, the POA dropped its opposition to the creation of the Office of Citizen Complaints, a civilian oversight body, after lengthy, productive and cooperative meetings with LGBTQ leaders, including Supervisor Harry Britt, an openly gay civil rights leader who was appointed to the Board of Supervisors in January 1979 by Mayor Dianne Feinstein, succeeding Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in City Hall along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor White, a former police officer. The creation of the Office of Civil Complaints ushered in a new and strong relationship with the LGBTQ community that continues today. We have multiple affinity groups within the police department, including the Pride Alliance, which boasts over 300 LGBTQ officers and has become a model for the nation.

I believe we need to focus on the issues of today and the realities we are all experiencing. San Francisco residents are frustrated, and rightly so, with a dramatic increase in smash and grabs, residential robberies, coordinated looting in the downtown core and having to walk with their heads on a swivel for fear of the unknown. We need to discuss these hard, cold realities and work together to find tangible and practical solutions.

The San Francisco Police Department is understaffed. We are 549 officers under where we need to be to effectively do our jobs to keep the public safe. We face retention and recruitment issues, as my members are fleeing to other municipalities or retiring early based on the stress of the job. We welcome community policing and understand the importance of building meaningful relationships with the community. Yet our officers are forced to respond to the Computer Aided Dispatch system, used by dispatchers and 911 operators to prioritize and record incident calls, identify the status and location of responders in the field and effectively dispatch responder personnel. With the tremendous amount of calls we receive, we simply cannot keep pace with the demand for service.

In addition, we receive thousands of calls on mental health and homeless related issues; however, our members are not trained clinicians and the requirement that officers respond to this troubled population exacerbates staffing issues and takes us away from responding to and potentially preventing violent crime, which should be our top priority. We need to recognize these problems and have an open and honest dialogue on how to address them, rather than continuing to point fingers in San Francisco’s “us versus them” political landscape, which literally gets us nowhere.

I have been an officer for 30 years and I grew up in public housing in the Western Addition. I am a woman of color and proud lesbian and have experienced racism and sexism in my own right, yet you won’t find me complaining about it or blaming others. The job of an officer is an extremely challenging one. Unfortunately, we are normally meeting someone on their worst day or during a traumatic and negative experience, and we do everything within our power to hold perpetrators accountable and provide solace to victims and their families by bringing people to justice. I have dedicated my career to serving on the frontlines in underserved communities, and we need a balanced and productive dialogue to address solutions to the realities we face.

San Francisco is an amazing city and I am proud to call myself a native. I grew up playing basketball at Hamilton Rec Center, and fondly remember through sports being able to participate and engage in the diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco. We should be working together to address the issues of today and encourage tourists back to The City, which is the lifeblood of our local economy. I am proud of my career, of who I am and where I come from, to wear the badge and serve my community.

Tracy McCray is acting president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

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