President Donald Trump may not be on the June ballot in San Francisco, but Trump-style politics are on full display in the San Francisco Police Officers Association’s deeply cynical and deceptive campaign for Proposition H.
True to its status as one of the biggest special interest spenders in this election, the POA is using expensive campaign advertising to try to trick voters into believing Prop. H is about whether or not the San Francisco Police Department will be equipped with Tasers. It’s not. At all. Not one bit.
The Police Commission already approved Tasers in November, long before the POA’s radio and print ads, mailers and other materials started bombarding voters with that big lie that forms the entire public rationale for their campaign. In reality, Prop. H is the POA’s attempt to overturn a carefully and collaboratively crafted policy regulating when Tasers may be used — a policy that was adopted by the Police Commission, supported by SFPD Chief Bill Scott and backed by Mayor Mark Farrell.
Even worse, Prop. H strips both the chief and commission of their authority to make any future adjustments to when Tasers can be used. The POA’s Taser law could not be changed without another election or a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.
Using the ballot box to limit the ability of both police and civilian oversight to make any changes to how and when officers can use a dangerous weapon is recklessly dangerous and completely unprecedented — not only in San Francisco but nationwide.
So why is the POA spending big money to pass Prop. H? When pressed, police union leaders admit they find the SFPD Taser policy “too restrictive” for their preferred old school-style of policing. During a recent videotaped debate, produced by the League of Women Voters for SFGovTV, the POA complained that “the more restrictive the language, the less the officer will likely use the device.” In other words, the POA wants officers to use Tasers more often than the mayor, police chief, Department of Police Accountability and Police Commission have all concluded would be safe and appropriate.
With Prop. H, the POA wants voters to authorize Taser uses on people who are posing no immediate physical threat and whose “active resistance” involves, as defined in SFPD policy, nothing more than “bracing, tensing, or verbally signaling an intention to avoid being taken into custody.” That’s the standard that was used by the San Jose Police Department when six people died there from 2005 to 2009 after being shot with Taser darts by police. San Jose paid out $1.3 million in damages from those deaths, and in 2010 the SJPD strengthened its Taser policy to the “immediate physical threat” standard now in place for the SFPD. Yet, amazingly, the POA is falsely claiming Prop. H is consistent with the current San Jose policy, rather than the one discarded eight years ago that had been discredited by tragedy and litigation.
The Voter Guide and text of Prop. H make crystal clear: “Any voter-approved policy on Tasers cannot be changed by the Commission or the Police Department.” But in a lie of Trumpian proportion, the POA falsely told SFGovTV viewers the commission could revisit and tighten the Prop. H Taser standard at any time.
When asked, per the normal process, to provide an analysis of the impact of Prop. H on the SFPD, Scott described the measure as the “antithesis” of the collaborative reform process, called for by the Obama Justice Department, and emphasized that the commission and chief needed to retain the ability to make adjustments to policy as needed. The POA responded to Scott — just like Trump tweeting about “fake news” — by calling him an “abject failure” with “no mind of his own” who had been “played like a cheap fiddle.” True to form, the POA hurls personal insults when simply stated facts threaten its political agenda.
The three leading candidates for mayor, moderates and progressives, pro-Taser and anti-Taser, law enforcement and civil rights groups, the district attorney and public defender are all calling for no votes on Prop. H. Folks who often disagree on other subjects are unified in rejecting the measure, just like San Franciscans remain unified in rejecting Trump and the Trumpian politics practiced by the POA.
San Francisco has a long and proud tradition of rejecting special interest ballot measures backed by expensive campaigns designed to trick voters. Don’t be fooled. Get the facts.
John Crew is the former director of the Police Practices Project for the ACLU of Northern California and is currently a leader of the No on H campaign.