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Doomed to Repeat the Past: DPA in Decline

September 1, 2019
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

Under Director Paul Henderson’s leadership, The Department of Police Accountability has not changed course after the upheaval that led to former Director Joyce Hicks’ resignation in 2017.  Former Director Hicks’ tenure came to an end shortly after DPA began a practice of direct filing of frivolous complaints to the Police Commission and seeking hefty suspensions.  The Police Commission summarily dismissed complaints, concluding minor misconduct was better handled by smaller penalties imposed by the Police Department.  Hicks’ loss of credibility at the Police Commission, and a vote of no confidence by her investigators, marked the end of her DPA tenancy.

The more times change, the more they remain the same.

The DPA is on a self-destructive course and risks losing credibility by engaging in overreaching, far-flung theories to sustain allegations for direct filings at the Police Commission.  Doubling down on a deck stacked with losing cards, the DPA hopes to suspend Sergeants Mike Mellone and Nate Steger for 45 and 30 days respectively in an officer involved shooting that was ruled justifiable.  The DPA disregarded the District Attorney’s clearance letter -- which concluded that the shooting was justified -- and the Police Department’s administrative clearance of the incident.  Despite those findings, the DPA concluded that the officer’s use of force was not justified because their use of a non-lethal projectile “aggravated” the suspect to charge the officers with a machete.  In DPA’s view, people are allowed to charge at officers with a machete if an officer attempts to apprehend them using non-lethal force.

The membership complies with DOJ recommendations and the Police Commission’s Use of Force Policy.

Sergeants Mellone and Steger made every attempt to resolve this tragic situation. They employed the use of a Spanish-speaking interpreter to ensure that the suspect understood their commands to drop the weapon.  Sergeant Mellone used a less lethal projectile to stop the suspect from using the machete and bring the encounter to a peaceful resolution.  The suspect chose to charge the officers with a machete in hand.  The suspect should be held responsible for the fatal outcome of this situation NOT Sergeants Mellone and Steger.

The DPA is losing credibility.

The POA is combatting and often defeating the DPA’s overreaching attempts to end our members’ careers:

  • On July 9, 2019, POA attorneys blocked the DPA’s attempts to force an officer to reveal his private social media password, in violation of the Labor Code. 
  • On July 8, 2019, a Superior Court Judge, ordered an injunction prohibiting the Police Commission from pursuing unlawful charges directly filed by the DPA. 
  • On June 27, 2017, the California Supreme Court of Appeal found a DPA initiated complaint that lead to an officer’s termination was unlawful for failure to provide an administrative appeal.  The POA is scheduled to meet and confer regarding the lack of an administrative appeal process for written reprimands on minor misconduct where the majority originate from the DPA.

The majority of our members only know reform.

The DPA needs to stop beating the drum of “oversight” that reasonable San Franciscans are not marching to.  The DPA needs to realize the Department’s reform efforts have been effective, and the majority of members, having less than 5 years, are complying with training.  The majority of the membership have never experienced prior police practices that were scrutinized by the DOJ reform and the SFDA’s Blue Ribbon Panel.  Modern policing is reactive and very few officers still engage in proactive stops that are not traffic related.  It is baffling that the DPA and most elected officials still live in the past and ignore current public safety initiatives effective in San Francisco.

Culture clash and police services.

San Francisco is experiencing an extraordinary boom in the local economy.  Condos seem to be being built on every corner, and the congesting is mounting.  Neighborhoods have evolved, many to the upscale side thanks to Big Tech.  Most likely, the San Francisco neighbor is not a police officer, firefighter, plumber, electrician, or Muni bus driver because those middle-class workers cannot afford local housing.

There is a real clash between newcomers in San Francisco and dwindling working-class residents.  Each adheres to differing views on dealing with quality of life issues.  The police have historically been more involved in providing services such as investigating crime, ensuring the streets are safe, maintaining peace, and building community relations.

Overzealous DPA attempts to punish officers dissuades our members from being involved in the community and responding to calls for service.  The DPA should focus on the quality of positive police services being provided to the community. It must be fair and impartial when it investigates complaints.  If a member does wrong, they should be held accountable.  We are not asking for a pass.  We are only asking for reason and practicality be applied to the investigative process.  Filing frivolous complaints hurts the community and reduces quality police services.