If there is one thing that history has taught us, it is that change is inevitable. What is not inevitable is what change looks like. This has never been truer than right now in our country regarding policing. As a union, we face a choice. We either actively work to help shape what that change looks like, or we sit on the sidelines, complain to one another, and watch what happens to our profession.
The SFPOA chose to aggressively impact the future of our profession. We do so, starting with two basic tenants. First, the San Francisco Police Department has been at the forefront of police reform for the last five years. We do more than almost any department in the country, and the elected officials and the public need to know about it. Second, as police officers, we can always do better. We can always improve.
We were not the only ones to feel that way. We’ve partnered with like-minded police unions, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association on a national police reform agenda that we are aggressively pursuing with Congressional leaders. That reform agenda includes:
- A national use-of-force standard that emphasizes reverence for life, de-escalation, and a duty to intercede.
- A national database of former police officers fired for gross misconduct that prevents other agencies from hiring them.
- An early warning system, modeled after our own, that helps identify officers who may need more training or mentoring.
- Ongoing and frequent police officers’ training to build and refresh the skills needed to improve police and community outcomes is similar to California’s SB 230.
- A transparent, publicly-accessible use-of-force analysis website, similar to what the San Jose Police Department has implemented.
Our proposal has angered some who feel we should just worry about our own departments. It has been welcomed by others who are encouraged to see the voices of rank-and-file engaged in the process. It also has been met with skepticism by others. We will not allow detractors to deter us from our objective: improve the way we police in America while ensuring the safety of the public and police officers.
There’s also an important debate about the role of police in our communities happening in city halls across the country. This is a debate law enforcement has said it has wanted for some time. Too often, rank-and-file police officers have been used as a quick response to the social problem of the day. Police officers are problem solvers and can always find a way to address these challenges, but that’s not always the best approach.
Before the misleading “defund” the police movement occurred (it’s really slash police budgets), the SFPOA called for more resources to address the issues that are crushing the soul of our city: homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction. Last year, we helped found Protect California, a non-profit organization comprised of major law enforcement unions that specifically advocated for more non-police resources to address these issues and more.
Now, policymakers want to discuss whether, when, and how police officers should respond to non-criminal, non-emergency calls that involve mental health, neighbor disputes, the homeless, or chronic drug users as examples. This is a critical conversation that cannot be rushed. Because while a police officer is not always the best solution to these challenges, these types of calls also double as some of our most dangerous and volatile calls. That is why we can support this concept but insist on a thorough implementation process that involves all stakeholders to ensure its implementation in a safe, effective way. After all, if you were a mental health clinician, wouldn’t you want a say as to how you are deployed on a 24/7 basis?
Any of the issues discussed above on their own is a large undertaking. Addressing them all at the same time, as is happening now, is a monumental effort. Challenges aside, the SFPOA will not sit on the sidelines. We will not complain. We will help lead this effort so we can improve our profession and protect everyone’s safety.