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Policing in the San Francisco Bubble; What is Really Expected of SF Police Officers?

April 1, 2018
Martin Halloran SFPOA President

For all the quality of life issues that are facing our city — and we know there are many — like chronic and excessive homelessness, troubled individuals who are not receiving proper mental health services, to the explosion of auto burglaries, to open handed blatant drug dealing, to the gangs, and the guns, and . . . . well, at times it feels like the list is almost endless.

Despite it all, if you put on rose colored glasses, there is still an appeal to life in The City. Now factor in policing the City from inside the social, political, and economic bubble called San Francisco. There is not enough rose tint in any glasses to make a pretty picture out of this.

The often dark and brooding shadows cast by the political posturing and pandering by some government officials is sad, to say the least, and hypocritical to say the most. Their antics and misdirected micro-aggressions against scape-goat employee groups casts a shadowy pall over all else that is still good and decent about the city of Saint Francis: most notably its people, residents, and visitors by the millions. And it is the everyday, non-glorified workers who keep this city alive and operational 24/7. They are the heart and soul of the City and they are its greatest asset.

The men and women of the SFPD are a large and significant part of that work force. It is imperative that the SFPD continues to be a sought after destination for potential young officers so that we must remain competitive in this shrinking market. This is becoming more and more difficult for a number of reasons. Mostly due to uninformed individuals and media outlets who clearly have never walked in an officer’s shoes, or have any idea of the extensive training officers go through, or knowledge of the rules, regulations, policies, and procedures that governs what we do, why we do, and how we do it. The nonsense that some of them spew is simply not based on facts, it is skewed, and untrue. This leads to conflicting messages to the cops on the street, and to the POA which represents almost 2200 of San Francisco’s Finest.

A few examples:

Get out there and arrest those auto boosters who are preying upon our tourists (they see the potential loss of $$$). But if the suspect rams his getaway car at you and attempts to kill you by running over you not once but twice; don’t shoot at him. The Police Commission policy (credited to former Commissioner Suzy Loftus) doesn’t allow you to save your own life by shooting at a suspect in a vehicle who is trying to kill you.

Go after those guys robbing and stealing and carrying guns on the streets threatening everyone. But if they shoot at you and try to kill you, why is it that you didn’t just de-escalate instead of firing your gun at someone who is shooting at you? This has actually been said to the SFPD, by members of our community, at town hall meetings after an Officer Involved Shooting (OIS). Are you kidding me? Once we are being shot at there is no more de-escalation. You are now in a fight for your own survival.

SFPD officers need to utilize less lethal options to avoid an Officer Involved Shooting (OIS). But let’s take away a successfully proven less lethal option called the Carotid Restraint and delay the implementation of Tasers for over 13 years (once again credited to former Commissioner Suzy Loftus).

The DOJ, in 2016, under President Barack Obama’s administration recommended the SFPD be equipped with Tasers. Now, and only very recently, did the light bulb go on with some in City Hall, but there are still those in government (Mayor Farrell, Supervisors Breed, Cohen, Peskin, Kim, Ronin, Yee, Tang, Fewer along with Police Commissioners Turman, DeJesus, Hirsch, Hing, and Chief Scott) who oppose a ballot measure which would ensure that SFPD officers are equipped with Tasers. Is it coincidental or ironic that the Police Commission finally, after 13 years, acted on a Taser policy once the POA but forward a ballot measure?

The POA is impeding the DOJ reforms. They are obstructionist. Nothing can be further from the truth. Before they pulled out, The POA was formally recognized and praised by the DOJ COPS Collaborative Review for participating in and cooperating with that body during their work in San Francisco. The POA has sent representatives to every so called “stakeholder” meeting and we have offered detailed analysis of suggested policy and have not filed a single challenge, asserting a labor right or otherwise, to impede, delay or otherwise stand in the way of the implementation of any DOJ recommendation.

In fact, the DOJ, in their report, stated the following:

“It is important to note that these findings do not prove racial bias by officers of the SFPD or by the Agency as a whole.”

— U.S. DOJ Report, P. 72

“Minority individuals were not subjected to higher or more severe levels of force than white individuals. This is an important finding and suggests that higher levels of force are not being applied in a racially disproportionate manner by the SFPD.”

— U.S. DOJ Report, P. 36

“There is no evidence that explicit bias is widespread [in the SFPD]. On the contrary, the team observed a law enforcement agency that for the most part showed genuine compassion, caring and professionalism toward the people of San Francisco.”

— U.S. DOJ Report, P. 62

And this from a reporter who read the report:

“The Report found no proof of “racial bias by officers of the SFPD or by the Agency as a whole,” and said officers did not disproportionately use force against minorities.”

— Vivian Ho, SF Chronicle

To my knowledge there is not another organization in our city that has members risking their lives daily, running towards gunfire rather than away, arresting those who physically abuse their spouses and their children, chasing down gun toting gang members and armed robbers, reviving overdose victims with Naloxone, and finding shelter for the countless homeless on our streets. These POA members then volunteer, on their off time, to coach the youth, volunteer at senior centers, and assist the most vulnerable and forgotten members of our community. The POA then steps in and provides financial assistance to these groups where others have not. The POA and its members contribute upwards of $200,000 to non-profit groups in under-represented neighborhoods in San Francisco and through our scholarship program. Name any other labor group in San Francisco that does anything close to this? You can’t.

This is one of the reasons why our members feel like they are under attack, in a bubble, or on an island. Despite all of our good will, we are often portrayed as villains by those who have the progressive microphone but don’t have the facts.

The truth is, the attacks on SFPD officers are dramatically on the rise in the past few months. Our members have been shot, shot at, run over, stabbed, and assaulted. Nationwide, as of March 30th, officers killed in the line of duty by firearms has doubled this year in comparison to this same time last year.

Nevertheless, we will continue to do what we have always done. We took an oath to do so. We will go out there day after day 24/7 to serve and protect those who are the most vulnerable, in need, and who are crying for help. We just need to know what it is you expect of us in this bubble called San Francisco. Sometimes we just don’t get it.