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The Truth About Police Reform

June 1, 2021
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

There’s a large misconception about police reform in the minds of members of the media, the public and our lawmakers. The assumption is that police officers, police departments and police unions are opposed to improving who we police our country. That’s one hundred percent wrong.

Here’s the reality. Over the past several years, several major California police unions have pushed for policies and laws to improve policing. In 2019, police unions and law enforcement chiefs sponsored SB 230, the most comprehensive statewide use of force policy and training legislation in the nation. Last year, after a ridiculously unfair piece of legislation was introduced to address police certification (SB 731), the SFPOA and the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) went beyond opposing the poor legislation, we offered to meet in a special legislative session to work on legislation that would fairly address police certification by calling a special legislative session on policing.

We’ve made similar offers in our nation’s capital. Last June, we offered up a set of national reforms and we did so very publicly. We joined once again with the LAPPL and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association (SJPOA) in taking out a series of full-page newspaper ads in our respective cities and the Washington Post.

This year, we’re back at it again. The SFPOA told the State Legislature that it would be supportive of legislation that would prevent individuals from becoming police officers if they knowingly participated in a hate group. In Washington D.C. we once again have proposed improvements to policing nationally by adopting the high standards our major police departments already do:

  • Establish national minimum standards for police use-of-force
  • Mandate implementation of early intervention systems that identify officers in need of additional training and mentoring;
  • Require officers to intervene when they see excessive force or misconduct;
  • Create a national database of officers fired for gross misconduct;
  • Require mental health teams to respond to 911 calls that don’t need a police response; and
  • Provide ongoing and frequent scenario-based training to every member of law enforcement to meet these national standards.
  • Provide funding for training to meet the above standards.

Above is the most comprehensive set of concrete policy recommendations that we’ve seen circulated that would actually lead to safer interactions between community and police and improve our profession overall.

But we’re also asking that our lawmakers put their money where their mouth is. Training isn’t free. Hiring “the best and brightest” officers isn’t cheap. So, stop looking for silver bullets and magic pixie dust to accomplish your policing goals.

Federally, we’re advocating for funding to continuously train peace officers to meet the proposed uniform federal standards. Federal funding and/or assistance should be provided for education loan forgiveness, down payment assistance so officers can afford to live near their work, and for other incentives to allow jurisdictions to recruit and retain highly qualified officers that reflect the very communities they serve.

The sad reality is that anti-police activists have zero interest in improving policing. They want to do two things: fundraise and end policing. Some of you may remember that groups were parading around the country promoting the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign. Essentially eight police use of force policies that every Department should interact. When we pointed out to these groups that San Francisco already does them, there were no handshakes and “good jobs” offered. Rather, they went back to the drawing board and now are saying abolish police unions!

Why? Because if they are not fighting, they are not raising. Raising funds. Raising followers. Raising members. So, make police unions the bogeyman. Sure. That’s easy. It’s also easy to point fingers and never have to be responsible for what it is you’re advocating for.

The legislative item of the day is now Qualified Immunity. The protection that essentially every public employee has from personal liability while doing your job (including District Attorneys who act as Public Defenders). This is the activists’ panacea for reform. But why? Qualified immunity does not keep an officer who kills someone in the line of duty from being prosecuted. The prosecution of Derek Chauvin proves that. It does not prevent a family or individual from suing a city or county over police action. There are countless settlements and judgements to prove that. And it does not prevent officers from being terminated.

It’s another construct to offer false reform, while trying to damage police officers personally. All this is being forcefully advocated for while our nation’s major cities are seeing skyrocketing shootings and murders where the victims are overwhelmingly people of color. The silence from the activist community and legislators on this topic is earth-shattering deafening.

So, we end up fighting against bad bill after bad bill because there’s little interest on the activist side to actually solving issues. By taking that approach, they put legislators in a bind: are you for or against police reform? It’s a false choice because they’re not offering reform. They’re offering their next email solicitation for money or a severely hampered police force that is incapable of protecting the public.

This is why the SFPOA will continue to push for true improvements to our profession while vigorously fighting bad laws that offer a knowingly false promise to the public. We refuse to let those lies carry the day.