Proposed changes to the police union contract would add insult to injury for community members

San Francisco is failing to heed calls for defunding and divestment from police

By Defund SFPD Now

This summer, hundreds of thousands of people around the country came together to demand justice for Black lives lost or harmed at the hands of police officers. Calls to defund and dismantle the police have swept the nation, including here in San Francisco. And yet, San Francisco’s budget, which passed in September and was signed by the Mayor on October 2, cuts the San Francisco Police Department’s budget by only 6% compared to last year, and does so without reducing the size of the police force, which means that residents will not actually see any difference on our streets.

Why? One of the biggest obstacles to changing anything related to policing is the police union, San Francisco’s own Police Officers’ Association (POA). The POA has a long history of opposing any civilian oversight of police in San Francisco, attempting to bypass City limitations on Tasers via an unsuccessful but well-funded ballot initiative, fear-mongering against political candidates who voice support for reforms, targeting Colin Kaepernick after he peacefully protested against police violence, and abusing meet and confer requirements and litigation to relentlessly resist policy changes. Constant backdoor negotiations with the POA are the reason that many publicly supported police reforms have been blocked or delayed. The POA protects officers that have committed violent, unlawful, and immoral actions against the citizens that they’re meant to protect and serve, including the officers who shot and murdered Cesar Vargas just this last October 10. The POA is the reason why SFPD employees have some of the most inflated salaries and benefits in the country, with rookie cops paid approximately $30,000 more than the average first-year teacher.

Over the summer, purportedly as part of an effort to cut costs, the Department of Human Resources (DHR) renegotiated the City’s current contract with the POA, which will end in 2021, to “defer … scheduled wage increases over the period of the two-year budget.” However, not only does this renegotiated contract allow for retiring officers to collect back-pay on the deferred 3% raise, it extends the contract through mid-2023—a mayoral election year when POA will again have more leverage in negotiations—and commits the City to a total of over 9% in pay raises through June 2023. All this without the City obtaining any meaningful concessions from the POA in return: no full implementation of the 2018 transparency bill, Senate Bill 1421; no policy requiring that written reprimands be considered when promoting problematic officers; no requirements for disarming any officers; and no requirement that the POA remove a parity clause—a particularly offensive clause that ties SFPD wage and staffing changes to those of nurses, librarians, and other city essential workers.

This is a disgraceful failure to stand up to the POA on the part of DHR. Unlike Chicago, which demanded 40 reformist changes to policing policy in exchange for raises, the proposed POA contract doesn’t even feign a reformist purpose beyond SFPD’s unsubstantiated claims that they need more money to implement the 272 reforms recommended by the Department of Justice in 2016. The San Francisco Bar Association recently published a letter to the Board urging them to reconsider approval of this contract, citing concerns about DHR and City’s leniency and compliance in negotiating with the POA.

It is now the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to exercise their power and reject this deeply one-sided contract. This isn’t DHR’s contract, this is the City’s contract. The Board needs to make it clear they will not approve a contract that perpetuates the POA’s undue influence over the City’s regulations of police activity. They can even look to Denver, which recently rejected a bad contract with their police union deceptively framed as a short-term cost-saving measure. While rejecting the renegotiated POA contract would make the SFPD liable for a small 2% raise currently scheduled for January under the existing contract, the SFPD should be responsible for paying that within their considerable $700+ million budget. Even if a renegotiated contract must be adopted, the City must obtain meaningful noneconomic concessions before agreeing to any changes and locking in through mid-2023 all of the other contract terms that have historically protected the POA’s power and undue influence. This contract is a gift to the POA, and our communities are not getting anything in return.

The Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee will hear the POA contract on November 5. However, by combining this contract renegotiation in the same legislative file as the settlement of grievances between the City and the POA, the Committee will hear this item in closed session, bypassing the usual public accountability afforded City contracts. The Board of Supervisors need to evaluate whether they have the courage and political will to actually take a stand against institutional racism.

The Defund SFPD Now campaign is a joint project by the SF Afrosocialists & Socialists of Color Caucus (Afrosoc) and the Justice Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), SF. The SF Afrosocialists & Socialists of Color Caucus is a Black-led organization created in 2020 to center BIPOC voices within socialist spaces. The DSA SF Justice Committee was formed in 2017 and organizes DSA SF’s work fighting for the abolition of policing and prisons.

This campaign is one part of the collective pursuit to defund SFPD into abolition, and ultimately abolish the prison industrial complex in San Francisco and beyond. For years, there has been a grassroots movement in the City fighting for abolition. We support and work alongside these organizations by contributing additional leadership, capacity, and structure as needed in times of mass mobilization.